Japan to release treated water from Fukushima nuclear plant from August 24 

Over 1.3 million tonnes of radioactive water stored from 12 years; UN nuclear watchdog had approved plan in July 2023  

By Nandita Banerji
Published: Tuesday 22 August 2023
A view of debris and mud covered industrial area in Ofunato in 2011 after it was hit by a tsunami. Photo: iStock__

Treated, radioactively contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant will be dumped into the Pacific Ocean from August 24, 2023. The move has been opposed by the country’s neighbours along with major concerns by the fishing industry over potential effects on marine life.

An earthquake that hit Fukushima, Japan in 2011 had resulted in a devastating tsunami that killed thousands. It also caused severe damage to a nuclear power plant, which required a constant flow of cooling water to prevent further catastrophe. The event is considered among the world’s worst nuclear accidents, following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Read more: Alternatives to dumping Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific

More than 1.3 million tonnes of radionuclide-contaminated water have now been stored on-site for the past 12 years in tanks, but space is running out. News reports from earlier this year said the Fukushima plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will begin releasing the water into the Pacific this year

In 2014, Japan was hit by a typhoon, which had again damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant. The level of radioactive contamination in underground water near the damaged plant rose to record levels. The leakage of radioactive water was termed as a “serious accident” under the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority. 

TEPCO had the approval of the Japanese Government and  the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency gave the nod to the plan in July 2023, saying it complies with international standards. According to the operator’s website, it is using Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) technology  to treat the water.

ALPS removes most of the radioactive materials from the water except tritium — a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The water is diluted further with seawater to meet standard, TEPCO said. More than half of the free water on Earth is found in the Pacific Ocean, which is the biggest and deepest of the world’s ocean basins.

The Fukushima plant — located on the country’s east coast, about 220 kilometres north-east of the capital Tokyo — is being decommissioned. Releasing the water is a necessary step in the time-consuming and expensive process according to the government, reported the United Kingdom broadcaster British Broadcasting Corporation

Read more: How Fukushima nuclear disaster affected monkeys

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited the water treatment facility, his office posted on microblogging site X, previously known as Twitter. Authorities will ask the plant’s operator to “promptly prepare” for the disposal to begin on August 24 if weather and sea conditions are favourable. 

“The government will do its utmost to ensure safety, provide highly-transparent information, and prevent and counter reputational damage,” the post added.

China has urged Japan to negotiate with neighboring countries and rectify wrong decision, Chinese newspaper People’s Daily quoted their foreign ministry spokesperson as saying. “China opposes Japan’s move to start dumping nuclear-contaminated wastewater from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean on Thursday and has logged solemn representations,” it said. 

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