Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has refused to delay the release of contaminated water into the ocean.
PM Fumio Kishida made his first visit to the plant at the weekend and said the government will take measures to reassure the local people that disposing of the contaminated water in the Pacific is harmless.
Students in Japan have protested the government’s decision to release the water contaminated at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant was wrecked during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The new Prime Minister has said that the government will not delay the release of treated radioactive water despite facing resistance from fishermen and neighbouring countries.
The wastewater is pumped up from reactor basements to be treated to eradicate all but one radioactive material. The contaminated water has built up at the site following the triple meltdown the plant suffered in March 2011.
Researchers have fitted tracking devices and dosimeters on snakes to measure the radiation levels in the area around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.
Kishida said, “I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back.”
Over one million tonnes of water is being stored in 1,000 tanks at the site. Tepco has warned that there will be a shortage of space till next year.
The government and Tepco assured in April that efforts to release the heavily contaminated water would commence in the spring of 2023 and will take decades to complete.
Fishing communities have opposed the move arguing that it will undo years of hard work rebuilding their industry’s reputation. Following the tsunami in March 2011, Japan’s northeast coast was rocked by a magnitude-9 earthquake.
The decision has been made following years of debate over how to dispose of water. Other options considered by the government included evaporation and constructing more storage tanks at other sites.
South Korea, which continues having bans on importing seafood from the region, has repeatedly voiced concern, arguing that discharging the water posed a “grave threat” to the marine environment.
The South Korean Olympic committee made separate catering arrangements for its athletes during the Tokyo Olympics owing to their concern that their athletes could be served food from Fukushima, even though produce from the region undergoes rigorous safety checks.
Japan’s government claims releasing the water is the most feasible option that will allow workers at the site to proceed with decommissioning the plant. The decommissioning itself is an expensive operation expected to take around 40 years.
Kishida added, “We will provide explanations about safety from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to address people’s concerns.”
Japan has asked for help from the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure the discharge meets global safety standards, including treating the wastewater in a way that its radioactivity levels are below legal limits.
Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System helps reduce radioactive substances in the water to levels considered safe, however, the system does not have the capability of removing tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Kishida supports the restart of nuclear reactors that were out of operation since the Fukushima meltdown. The PM has said that nuclear power must be part of Japan’s energy mix if it is to become carbon neutral by 2050.