As Japan begins construction of facilities needed for a planned release of treated radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, experts say it will endanger the lives of people in the Asia-Pacific region

The construction of facilities needed for a planned release of treated radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean next year from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant began Thursday, 04 August 2022 despite opposition from the local fishing community.

Plant workers started construction of a pipeline to transport the wastewater from hillside storage tanks to a coastal facility before its planned release next year, according to the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings.

The digging of an undersea tunnel was also to begin later Thursday.

Construction at the Fukushima Daiichi plant follows the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s formal approval last month of a detailed wastewater discharge plan that TEPCO submitted in December.

The government announced last year a decision to release the wastewater as a necessary step for the plant’s ongoing decommissioning.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s cooling systems, causing triple meltdowns and the release of large amounts of radiation. Water that was used to cool the three damaged and highly radioactive reactor cores has since leaked into basements of the reactor buildings but was collected and stored in tanks.

TEPCO and government officials say the water will be further treated to levels far below releasable standards and that the environmental and health impacts will be negligible. Of more than 60 isotopes selected for treatment, all but one — tritium — will be reduced to meet safety standards, they say.

Local fishing communities and neighboring countries have raised concerns about potential health hazards from the radioactive wastewater and the reputation damage to local produce and oppose the release.

Scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to not only tritium but also other isotopes on the environment and humans are still unknown and that a release is premature.

The contaminated water is being stored in about 1,000 tanks that require much space in the plant complex. Officials say they must be removed so that facilities can be built for its decommissioning. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.37 million tons in autumn of 2023.

TEPCO said it plans to transport treated and releasable water through a pipeline from the tanks to a coastal pool, where it will be diluted with seawater and then sent through an undersea tunnel with an outlet about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away to minimize the impact on local fishing and the environment.

TEPCO and the government have obtained approval from the heads of the plant’s host towns, Futaba and Okuma, for the construction, but local residents and the fishing community remain opposed and could still delay the process. The current plan calls for a gradual release of treated water to begin next spring in a process that will take decades.

On Wednesday, 03 August 2022 Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori and the two mayors visited Tokyo and asked Economy and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda to ensure safety and prevent further damage to the reputation of Fukushima fishing products.

Akira Ono, TEPCO chief decommissioning officer at the plant, promised the highest efforts to ensure safety and understanding.

“We are aware of various views on reputational impact and safety concerns (of the release), and we’ll keep explaining throughly to stakeholders,” he said.

TEPCO said that weather and sea conditions could delay the completion of the facility until summer 2023.

Japan has sought help from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the water release meets international safety standards and reassure local fishing and other communities and neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, that have opposed the plan.

IAEA experts who visited the plant earlier this year said Japan was taking appropriate steps for the planned discharge.

Meanwhile, experts who want to see stepped-up efforts against ocean disposal from the countries most at risk said Japan’s plan to dump radioactive wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant will endanger the lives of people in the Asia-Pacific region.

South Koreans have been among those expressing their opposition to the plan, and voices have again been raised after Japan moved a step closer to implementing its planned discharge of the nuclear-contaminated water from next year, following the recent approval of the plan’s details by the nation’s nuclear regulator.

“The discharge of wastewater from Fukushima is an act of contaminating the Pacific Ocean as well as the sea area of South Korea,” said Ahn Jae-hun, energy and climate change director at the Korea Federation for Environment Movement, an advocacy group in Seoul.

“Many people in South Korea believe that Japan’s discharge of the Fukushima wastewater is a wrong policy that threatens the safety of both the sea and humans,” Ahn told China Daily.

Last month, Japan’s nuclear regulator approved the plan to discharge wastewater into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, after it built up a huge amount of radiation-tainted water. The water has been collected and stored in tanks following efforts to cool down the reactors after an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011.

The dumping plan has drawn fierce opposition from government officials and civic groups in South Korea, one of the world’s major consumers of seafood.

On 01 August, South Korea’s Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Cho Seunghwan said the government is considering whether to take the issue to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Yonhap News Agency reported. Cho said the government’s primary plan is to prevent Japan from releasing contaminated water. “We do not accept the release plan”, he said.

Ahn said radioactive materials can generate long-term effects and it remains unclear how they will affect the marine ecosystem.

Though the South Korean government is considering taking the issue to the international tribunal, Ahn said it will be difficult to quantify the potential damage.

South Korea has said it will conduct a thorough analysis and revision of the impact of Japan’s plan, but the government has not received enough data from Japan to conduct such research, South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper reported in June.

After Japan’s nuclear regulator approved the Fukushima discharge plan, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Tokyo needs to transparently explain and gain consent from neighboring countries before releasing the contaminated water.

Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, said the environmental group is concerned about the potential impact of the water’s release on the wider Asia-Pacific region.

The level of exposure depends on multiple variables including the concentration in seawater and how quickly it concentrates, disperses and dilutes, forms of life, and the type of radionuclide released and how that disperses or concentrates as it moves through the environment, Burnie said.

“The concentrations are of direct relevance to those who may consume them, including marine species like fish and, ultimately, humans,” Burnie told China Daily.

Noting that the Fukushima contaminated water issue comes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as it is a form of pollution to international waters, Burnie said there are strong grounds for individual countries to file a legal challenge against Japan’s plan.

Ahn said joint expressions of opposition in the region could force the Japanese government to choose a safe method to deal with the wastewater instead of dumping it into the sea. China is also among the neighboring countries that have voiced opposition to the Fukushima discharge plan.

This story was written by Mari Yamaguchi and Yang Han, originally published at AP News on 04 August 2022 and China Daily on 09 August 2022, reposted via PACNEWS.

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