Gov’t decides to release Fukushima wastewater into sea, starting in 2 years

The central government decided on April 13 to release into the ocean tritium-containing wastewater from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, starting in two years. The decision, taken at a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers held at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, brought to an end the controversy over how to dispose of swelling wastewater that has been treated but is still polluted by tritium, a radioactive substance. It effectively overrode opposition by prefectural residents concerned over additional reputational damage to local products already hit by harmful rumors stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster at the plant. The government plans to dilute the concentration of tritium to less than one-40th the level permitted under national safety standards and begin discharging wastewater into the sea from inside the compounds of the crippled plant in about two years. The release is planned to end by the time the plant’s decommissioning is completed, targeted for around 2041-2051. The utility, known as TEPCO, will compensate for damage caused by unfounded rumors. “The disposal of wastewater is an unavoidable issue to promote decommissioning,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the meeting. “The government will act at the forefront to ensure safety and take every possible measure to dissipate reputational damage.” He told reporters after the meeting that “harmful rumors must never be allowed to dash local hopes for reconstruction.” But Fukushima people remain strongly opposed to the planned release of wastewater from the plant premises as they are worried over double reputational damage caused by the disposal in addition to the nuclear accident. The government faces a mountain of challenges such as how to build consensus among the local communities concerned, forge understanding at home and abroad, hold down reputational damage, and establish a compensation scheme. Under “the fundamental policy on the disposal of treated water” decided by the government, the release into the ocean was chosen from among several options on grounds that there is a track record of disposing wastewater in the same manner in Japan and that the level of concentration of tritium can be detected with certainty. A plan calling for treatment outside the plant was dropped in favor of internal disposal because it “would require considerable coordination and time with local authorities involved.” TEPCO, which is to undertake wastewater disposal, will have its plan for the release and equipment subjected to screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. TEPCO “will have the responsibility to prevent reputational damage to the maximum extent,” according to documents on the government policy. The documents also say that should such damage be caused even after government action to support the fishery industry and other quarters, including expanding sales channels and promoting tourist attractions, TEPCO is supposed to make up for damage. The government has established a new group of Cabinet ministers concerned to discuss a support program and other measures required, calling its first meeting on April 16. At the Fukushima plant, contaminated water keeps increasing due to water pumped into reactors to cool melted fuel debris as well as groundwater flowing in. Such water is stored in tanks after being treated by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to eliminate radioactive substances but tritium cannot be removed. The amount of treated water in storage stood at about 1.25 million tons as of March. TEPCO estimates that the overall tank capacity limit will be reached in the fall of next year or later. The government and TEPCO are set to discuss the advisability of increasing the number of tanks installed on the plant premises. (Translated by Kyodo News)