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Politics

Japan set to release Fukushima water into Pacific Ocean

Release to occur after 2022 despite reputational worries from fishing industry

Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2019. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

TOKYO -- Japan is set to officially decide to release treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean amid opposition from a fishing industry worried about its reputation.

Keeping water at the site, where the devastating tsunami in 2011 led to three meltdowns, could affect decommissioning. The government's decision about the disposal of the water, which could come this month, is expected to speed the decommissioning work.

The release would occur after 2022, following the construction of facilities and the creation of regulatory procedures.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato talked with the chairman of the Japan Fisheries Cooperatives Zengyoren on Thursday about the water. Zengyoren, a fishing industry lobby, opposed the release.

Kato told reporters that a "decision on the treated water should be made quickly to avoid delays in decommissioning."

The plant is managed by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Since the meltdowns, groundwater and rain have been entering the site. As of fiscal 2019, an additional 180 tons of water was being contaminated every day by the high concentration of radioactive substances.

Tepco removes major radioactive substances from the water, which is then stored at the site. As of Sept. 17, there were 1.23 million tons of treated water in about 1,000 tanks.

Tepco is planning to secure tanks for storing 1.37 million tons this fiscal year but says the tanks could be full by October 2022. If the number of tanks continues to increase, the plan laid out by the government and Tepco to complete the decommissioning work between 2041 and 2051 could be delayed.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in September said, "The government would like to take the responsibility and decide on the direction [of what to do with the treated water] as quickly as possible."

The Fukushima prefectural towns of Okuma and Futaba in August requested the government to make a swift policy decision.

Releasing the water could harm the reputation of the area's marine-related businesses. The government is planning to support the promotion of Fukushima products and help in getting the word out that the treated water is safe, in and outside of Japanese waters.

Tepco's first step would be to construct facilities that will be necessary to release the water, which still includes difficult-to-remove radioactive tritium. There is tritium-mixed water even in healthy nuclear power plants, but the concentration must be below a certain standard.

Treated water, in which enough radioactive materials other than tritium are removed, would be diluted up to about 600 times by uncontaminated water. The released water would then be well within international standards.

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