Gov’t to release treated reactor water into ocean

April 14 , 2021

On April 13, the Japanese government led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formally endorsed the release into the ocean treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant that suffered a meltdown in 2011. Used to cool the radioactively “hot” Daiichi reactor, the water contains radioactive elements, most of which are removed through an extensive filtration process and stored in giant tanks onsite. One element that cannot be filtered out is tritium, which will be heavily diluted to levels well below internationally acceptable health standards as that set by the World Health Organization (WHO), before it is discharged.

“The disposal of treated water is an issue that cannot be skirted in decommissioning [the reactor],” said Suga. Komeito Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters that while the issue has “been under examination for many years, with storage [of treated water] reaching its limit, [the government’s] decision seems unavoidable.”

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) plans to dilute every liter of treated water with 100 liters of seawater, ensuring that the tritium level is reduced to 1/40th of that established in Japan as being safe to human beings and 1/7th of that deemed by the WHO.

At present, some 1.3 million tons of treated water are contained in storage tanks, but they are expected to be full by 2022 as seawater is constantly being pumped to cool the reactor vessel. The discovery of local groundwater seeping into the reactor building is exacerbating matters. If the storage problem is unresolved, TEPCO reports that its reactor decommissioning program could be set back.

In order to maximize transparency, the Environment Ministry, together with local government agencies, will monitor the disposed tritium levels. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be dispatching teams of international experts and have inspectors onsite for environmental monitoring operations. The government also established an inter-ministry Cabinet group that will be tasked to develop and adopt additional measures as necessary.

The government and TEPCO will work to address and minimize concern, both by the public and local fishing industry, over marine products from the area, including compensating fisheries that suffer damages inflicted by unfounded rumormongering from unsavory media sources and on social media.

Yamaguchi also told reporters that the government, with the cooperation of the IAEA, needs to explain its decision to the international community “based on and corroborated by scientific evidence.” Komeito executives conferred with government officials on April 14, with Deputy Chief Representative Yoshihisa Inoue saying that Japan must strive “to allay concerns expressed by neighboring nations.”

In a related development, the U.S. State Department issued an official statement on April 12 local time regarding the matter: “In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards,” wrote Department spokesperson Ned Price. “We look forward to the GOJ’s [Government of Japan’s] continued coordination and communication as it monitors the effectiveness of this approach.”

Posting on Twitter, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken wrote, “We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water…” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi also released a statement expressing understanding of and support for Japan’s decision: “Japan’s chosen water disposal method is both technically feasible and in line with international practice.”