Japan said Tuesday it has decided to release tons of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean despite strong push back from conservation groups and concern from neighboring nations.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers during a Cabinet meeting that space to hold such water will run out next year and that its disposal “is a problem that cannot be avoided.”
Decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been ongoing for several years since an earthquake-induced tsunami on March 11, 2011, flooded hundreds of miles and severely damaged three nuclear reactors at the site, causing it to release massive quantities of radiation.
Since the meltdown, groundwater continues to be contaminated at the site when it comes into contact with the damaged reactors and fuel debris in the buildings, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.
This water is pumped from the site to purification equipment such as the advanced liquid processing system known as ALPS where nuclides except for tritium can be removed before being pumped into storage tanks, which Suga said are near capacity.
According to a report on Tuesday by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPC), the operator of the plant, the tanks occupy increasingly large areas of the site that negatively impact future decommissioning work.
They also pose the risk of leaking and other issues due to deterioration or disaster, it said, adding an earthquake on Feb. 13 caused some of the tanks to shift.
Suga said the government will “absolutely guarantee” the water is safe to be released, which is not schedule to start until 2023.
Some 1.2 million tons of wastewater is currently being held in nearly 1,000 tanks on the site, the ministry said.
TEPC said in its report that the water in the tanks will be treated until the levels of nuclear material other than tritium meet regulatory standards, it said, adding that the disposal of the water is holding back the area’s recovery from the nuclear accident.
“It is necessary to steadily proceed with mid-and-long-term efforts toward decommissioning in order to ensure the return of evacuated residents to their homes with peace of mind, and to remove anxieties of the local communities and the national populace,” TEPC said in the report. “No further postponement of establishing this Basic Policy is possible for the issue on the handling of the ALPS treated water.”
Suga said the Cabinet will meet again to hash out the plan’s details.
Greenpeace Japan on Tuesday chastised Japan for having “failed” the residents of Fukushima, calling its decision to release wastewater into the Pacific Ocean unjustified.
“It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts,” Kazue Suzuki, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement. “Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long them, they have opted for the cheapest option – dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean.”
Greenpeace has previously called its capacity issue, that the wastewater will not pose a danger and that there are no alternatives “myths.”
Four other options on handling the wastewater had been considered by the Subcommittee on Handling of ALPS treated water, recommending its discharge into the sea as “the more reliable method of implementation.”