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Fukushima water release plan gets initial OK from Japan regulator

TEPCO will begin dischagging contaminated water from the Fukushima power plant into the ocean by next spring

UN nuclear watchdog launches review of Fukushima water release
An extensive pumping and filtration system removes most radioactive elements from the water stored at the Fukushima plant - Copyright AFP FAJRIN RAHARJO
An extensive pumping and filtration system removes most radioactive elements from the water stored at the Fukushima plant - Copyright AFP FAJRIN RAHARJO

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) granted initial approval on Wednesday for a Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) plan for releasing water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, saying there are no safety issues.

After spending several months reviewing the plan announced by then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration last spring, the NRA said discharging more than 1,2 million tons of treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean will help TEPCO secure the space needed to decommission the plant.

According to Reuters, the NRA plans on making the decision for final approval after a one-month public comment period, an official with the NRA said, who deals with the issue.

In 2021, the Japanese government approved the release of over 1 million tonnes of irradiated water from the site after treatment into the ocean, starting around spring 2023. This plan was met with objections from local fishermen and objections from neighboring China and South Korea.

It is the responsibility of the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to conduct safety reviews of the planned release, and the NRA’s initial approval came when IAEA chief Rafael Grossi was visiting Japan.

Grossi told Japanese industry minister Koichi Hagiuda that the IAEA’s reviews would give the world confidence that the water in question will have no negative impact on the public’s health, the industry ministry said in a written statement.

Fukushima operators to build undersea tunnel to release treated water
An extensive pumping and filtration system extracts tonnes of newly contaminated water each day at the Fukushima plant – Copyright AFP Kazuhiro NOGI

TEPCO describes the procedure

TEPCO plans on using an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to treat wastewater that has been pumped into Fukushima to cool fuel from the melted reactors and has mixed with rainwater and groundwater since the tsunami.

This wastewater will then be further diluted so that the Tritium levels in the contaminated water fall to less than 1/40th of regulatory limits permitted in Japan, before pumping it into the ocean.

The radioactive isotope, Tritium is not removed from the wastewater using ALPS, and TEPCO says it will dilute the wastewater further to take care of any concerns about it harming sea life.

However, TEPCO also acknowledged in 2018 that other isotopes including ruthenium, cobalt, strontium, and plutonium, “sometimes slip through the ALPS process,” according to Science.

“These radioactive isotopes behave differently than tritium in the ocean and are more readily incorporated into marine biota or seafloor sediments,” Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told the magazine last year.

Following the NRA’s endorsement, the discharge plan could be officially approved as early as July. The International Atomic Energy Agency will begin an inspection of the Fukushima plant Thursday, with South Korean officials participating in monitoring the plan.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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