Japan formalizes plan to dump contaminated Fukushima water into sea

(Update 1: changes lede, adds reaction from Beijing, Seoul, minor edits)

Tokyo, Apr 13 (EFE).- Japan on Tuesday formalized its to decision to release over 1 million tonnes of treated contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, causing protests from neighboring countries.

The contentious measure is aimed at solving the accumulation of radioactive water at the Daiichi nuclear facilities, one of the most pressing problems in the complex process of dismantling the plant that was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Japanese Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga formalized the decision Tuesday in a Cabinet meeting after having consulted with the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power, the Japanese nuclear regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the local authorities of Fukushima, among other parties.

“Disposing of the treated water is an unavoidable issue in decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant,” Suga said at the meeting.

He added that the plan will be implemented “while ensuring that safety standards are cleared by a wide margin and firm steps are taken to prevent reputational damage.”

The Japanese authorities say that the release will not generate any risk to human health because the levels of tritium released into the sea will be diluted enough to fall below national sanitary standards and they defend that this is a common practice in other countries.

The controlled discharge of water from the plant was the measure that the Japanese authorities leaned towards since the beginning of last year, considering it the most viable among a range of other technically more complex options.

But the decision was delayed due to opposition from the Fukushima government and local fishermen’s associations, who believe that the spill could further harm their economic activity, among the worst hit by the 2011 nuclear accident.

Neighboring countries China and South Korea have also protested the move.

Seoul on Tuesday expressed “strong regret” over the decision and “strongly urged” full transparency from Tokyo with regards to the treatment process, Koo Yoon-cheol, head of South Korea’s Office for Government Policy Coordination, told reporters after an emergency vice-ministerial meeting.

He added that the government “will clearly deliver our people’s protest to the Japanese government. We will demand specific measures from Japan to ensure the safety of our people and prevent damage to the marine environment,” according to Yonhap news agency.

Koo also said the government will refer its concerns to the IAEA and strengthen radiation checks and origins inspections on imported foods.

Beijing in a statement expressed its “serious concerns” for the marine environment and global public health, saying “Japan has not exhausted safe disposal methods … and without full consultation with neighboring countries and the international community.”

It urged Tokyo to “re-examine” its options and said “China will continue to work closely with the international community to monitor developments.”

The water, which is stored in huge tanks, is what was pumped into the damaged nuclear reactor cores, as well as contaminated rain and groundwater.

The Fukushima Daiichi facilities have a water processing system that removes the radioactive materials considered dangerous, with the exception of tritium, a material present in nature, although in low concentration.

More than 1.25 million tonnes of processed water is stored at the Daiichi facilities, and storage capacity is expected to run out next autumn.

The release into the sea may not take place for two years due to the need to build new facilities and conduct safety screenings, but the entire process could take decades. EFE


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