Japan to start releasing radioactive Fukushima wastewater into sea as early as April 2023

The exact timing of the release could be sometime during this spring or summer as the government is still waiting for a comprehensive report from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Winnie Li | January 13, 2023, 07:59 PM

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Japan is expected to start releasing nuclear wastewater containing radioactive substances into the ocean as early as Apr., 2023, according to Japanese news outlet, NHK.

The Japanese government confirmed the plan at a meeting held at the Prime Minister's Office on Jan. 13, 2023.

Originally, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company responsible for storing and treating the wastewater, aimed to start the discharging process around the spring of 2023.

However, after the government assessed the processes at the meeting, especially the time required to construct the undersea tunnel used for the release, it postponed the timeframe for the discharge to between spring and summer 2023.

The government will also wait for a "comprehensive report" from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the release, said chief cabinet secretary Matsuno Hirokazu, according to BBC.

Screenshot via NHK

A controversial decision since 2021

Since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan's eastern coast in 2011, TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been accumulating nuclear wastewater used to cool down the fuel cores at the plant in storage tanks. 

The water was stored because it contained tritium, a radioactive substance that TEPCO's Advanced Liquid Processing System wasn't able to remove

However, as the storage space was filling up quickly, the Japanese government led by Suga Yoshihide decided in 2021 that Japan would release wastewater into the Pacific Ocean after diluting its tritium concentration by 40 times. The entire disposal process was expected to take 30 years to complete.

Following the announcement, the Japanese government have attempted multiple times to reassure the public that the treated water poses no safety concerns while explaining that discharging it into the ocean is standard practice for nuclear plants around the world.

More recently, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, Nishimura Yasutoshi, also contributed to the thread by posting a video on his Twitter on Jan. 13.

He reiterated that the treated water to be released into the ocean is "in strict compliance with safety standards and with external monitoring by the IAEA".

Opposed by local fishermen

It is thus not surprising that the government's decision was met with strong opposition from fishermen in Fukushima since its announcement in 2021, whose livelihood depends on the sea.

Many are worried that consumers will lose their trust in seafood products from Fukushima.

"Working to foster understanding": Nishimura

Screenshot via NHK

At the press conference following the meeting this morning, Nishimura shared that the government is "working to foster understanding by facilitating information transmission" to the local residents of Fukushima.

He also said the government will work on the following while they continue to explain these initiatives to the local people:

  • Improving the environment, such as by strengthening post-discharge monitoring
  • Boosting the consumption of sea products originating from areas affected by the disaster

"Dialogues and consultations with stakeholders ongoing": TEPCO president

Screenshot via NHK

Kobayakawa Tomoaki, the president of TEPCO, also said that he is aware of objections and deep-seated concerns held by local stakeholders.

He shared that efforts such as "dialogues and consultations with local residents, including fishermen and the distribution industries", are ongoing.

Kobayakawa also vowed to try his best to "understand the perspectives of as many people as possible and provide them with thorough explanations". A key focus would be to help them understand the supportive measures the government will be implementing as the release date approaches.

Objections from neighbouring countries and Greenpeace

Besides the local residents, Japan's announcement to release the nuclear wastewater has also triggered objections internationally, including from neighbouring countries and environmental groups.

China has voiced its objection against Japan's plan repeatedly, citing that it will severely affect human health and the immediate interests of people in neighbouring countries. The foreign ministry also warned Japan that China "reserves the right to make further reactions" if the former follows through with its plan.

Similarly, South Korea also said that the decision made unilaterally by the Japanese government is "absolutely unacceptable". The government strongly demand its Japanese counterpart to lay out the measures that will help mitigate the health and environmental risks posed to its citizens.

Greenpeace, a leading environmental group, opposed Japan's decision by claiming the wastewater could damage human DNA as it contains dangerous levels of the radioactive isotope,  carbon-14.

Top image via NHK.