TOKYO ( Associated Press) – Japan’s nuclear regulator on Wednesday approved a plan by the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant to release its treated radioactive wastewater At sea next year, saying that the mentioned methods are safe and the risks to the environment are minimal.
The plan was submitted by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings based on the government’s decision last year to release wastewater as a necessary step for the ongoing plant clean-up and decommissioning.
A major earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling system of the Fukushima plant, causing the melting of three reactors and the release of large amounts of radiation. Water used to cool the three damaged reactor cores, which remain highly radioactive, has since leaked but was collected and stored in tanks.
There is still concern in the community and neighboring countries about the potential health hazards of the release of wastewater that contains tritium – a byproduct of nuclear power generation and a potential carcinogen at high levels.
The government and TEPCO say more than 60 isotopes selected for the treatment can be denatured to meet safety standards, except for tritium, but it is safe when diluted. Scientists say the long-term effects of low doses on the environment and humans are unknown, and tritium may have a greater effect on humans when consumed in fish than in water.
Japan Nuclear Authority President Toyoshi Fuketa said the plan was designed conservatively so that the radiation’s effect on the environment would be below the legal limit in case of any potential risk.
Under the plan, TEPCO will move water from tanks to a coastal facility below releasable levels via a pipeline, where the water is diluted with seawater.
From there, the water will enter an underwater tunnel about 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) from the plant to ensure safety and reduce the impact on local fishing and the environment, according to TEPCO.
The plan will become official after 30 days of public review, a formality that is not expected to reverse approval.
The green light came when International Atomic Energy Agency director Mariano Grossi arrived in Japan for a meeting with top officials to discuss the plan, which has attracted international attention.
Fuketa will meet with Grossi on Friday after the IAEA director’s visit to the Fukushima plant on Thursday and meeting with other Japanese officials.
The government and TEPCO plan to begin gradually releasing the treated water in the spring of 2023.
The contaminated water is being stored in about 1,000 tanks at the damaged plant, which officials say must be removed so facilities can be built to close it. The tanks are expected to reach a capacity of 1.37 million tonnes next year – slower than previously estimated later this year.
Japan has sought the IAEA’s assistance to ensure that water releases meet international safety standards, and to reassure local fishing and other communities as well as neighboring countries who have sharply criticized the plan.
A team of experts from the IAEA visited the plant in February and March for meetings with the Japanese government and TEPCO officials. The task force said in a report released in late April that Japan was making “significant progress” on the plan and was taking appropriate steps toward the planned discharge.