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Fukushima nuclear water to be released into sea

By THE JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI VIA AP Published: October 16, 2020

The government intends to officially decide to release into the sea "treated water" containing radioactive material from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., at a meeting of relevant ministers as early as this month, according to sources.

The water became contaminated when it was used to cool crippled reactors in the 2011 nuclear crisis or when groundwater and rainwater later flowed into the damaged reactor buildings.

The water, which has undergone purification treatment, is planned to be discharged into the sea after the contamination level is reduced to a level within national safety standards.

However, as people in the fisheries industry are concerned about harmful rumors, the government plans to take measures to compensate them. The water discharge into the sea is expected to start around 2022.

"The issue of treated water can't be put off indefinitely as the site [to store the water] is approaching its limits," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on Friday.

At a separate press conference on the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said, "We'd like to reach a conclusion responsibly at an appropriate time after further discussions within the government."

The treated water has been stored on the premises of the Fukushima plant.

The amount of stored water has been increasing by an average of about 180 tons a day. As of Sept. 17, the accumulated amount was approximately 1.2 million tons in about 1,000 storage tanks. The tanks are expected to reach their full storage capacity by the summer of 2022.

TEPCO plans to start the construction of a pipe to be used to discharge the water from the plant to the sea off Fukushima Prefecture. Before the release into the ocean, radioactive substances will be removed to meet certain safety levels. Regarding the radioactive substance tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that remains even after the water is treated through a processing system, its radiation level is expected to be diluted with seawater to 1-40th of the level permitted by national safety standards. As the radiation level is likely to decline further in the ocean, no harm to human health is expected from the water discharge that will take about 30 years.

However, fishery groups across the country have strongly opposed the water release, saying it could cause damage to their livelihoods through harmful rumors. In light of this, the government intends to provide support in response to such matters as a decline in income among people in fisheries businesses.

In February this year, a government panel of experts compiled a report on how to dispose of the treated water. The panel presented two plans - discharge into the sea or evaporation and release into the air - as realistic options, but regarded the former as a more reliable method.

To decide on a disposal method, the government had sought opinions from municipalities near the nuclear power plant and people in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries since April this year.

"It's too soon," said Akira Egawa, head of a fisheries cooperative in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, referring to the government's intention to pick the sea discharge option.

On the other hand, Shiro Izawa, mayor of Futaba, one of the two Fukushima Prefecture towns on whose shared border the nuclear plant complex sits, said: "As a local municipality concerned, we've been calling for an early decision on how to dispose [of the water]. I think such calls were taken into consideration."

(c) 2020, The Japan News-Yomiuri.