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Japan to release treated water from Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean: USA, IAEA support, China condemns

Rafael MarianoGrossi, the director of the IAEA has stated in a video message that the organisation welcomes Japan's decision. He added that the IAEA will provide full technical support

After mulling for years, Japan has finally given a go-ahead to disposing wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific ocean. During a cabinet meeting on April 13 (Tuesday), Japan decided that it will begin releasing more than a million cubic meters of ‘treated’ water from the crippled nuclear power plant into the ocean. The process will be gradual and is expected to begin in two years.

‘Most realistic’ and ‘unavoidable’ option says Japanese Prime Minister

Japan has long delayed the decision to dispose of the wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant over criticisms and safety concerns. However, while announcing his government’s decision, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that dumping treated water containing radioactive substances into the ocean is ‘unavoidable’ and there is no time to delay the reconstruction of Fukushima.

Calling it the ‘most realistic’ option, Suga opined that this was “unavoidable in order to achieve Fukushima’s recovery”.

Suga made the announcement after convening a meeting to formalise plans to release the radioactive water accumulated at the nuclear plant.

IAEA supports Japan’s decision, says it will help

The International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that it will support Japan in carrying out the disposal. Rafael MarianoGrossi, the director of the IAEA has stated in a video message that the organisation welcomes Japan’s decision. He added that the IAEA will provide full technical support for the safe implementation of the plans. He also added that the IAEA will work closely with the Japanese government before, during and after the discharge of the water. Safety review missions will be dispatched and environmental monitoring will be supervised.

The IAEA director assured that the water discharge will be carried out without any adverse impact on human health and the environment. He also added that controlled water discharges into the ocean are routinely used by operational nuclear plants around the world under strict safety and environmental standards.

1.25 million tonnes of water accumulated in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

For the uninitiated, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been generating a massive amount of radiation-tainted water after being battered by the massive earthquake-triggered tsunami in 2011. It includes water used to cool the plant, as well as rain and groundwater that seeps in daily.

Over the years, around 1.25 million tonnes of water have accumulated in tanks at the nuclear plant, but, now the space used to store the water is expected to run out by next year.

Owing to this, the Japanese government has decided to gradually release the radioactive water into the Pacific ocean.

The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and government officials have confirmed that the water has been treated using an advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS, to remove most contaminants but radioactive materials like tritium cannot be removed from the water. Japanese experts are, however, of the opinion that tritium in small quantities is not harmful.

“The Japanese government has compiled basic policies to release the processed water into the ocean, after ensuring the safety levels of the water … and while the government takes measures to prevent reputational damage,” Suga told reporters.

China warns of action over Japan’s decision to dump radioactive Fukushima water into the sea

Though the Japanese authorities have confirmed that the water is “treated”, the decision is facing fierce criticism from various quarters.

Japan’s Fisheries Industry has vociferously opposed the plan amidst fear that releasing the water will undermine years of work to restore confidence in seafood from the region. Greenpeace Japan denounced the decision, saying in a statement that it “ignores human rights and international maritime law.”

Not happy with Tokyo’s decision to dump wastewater water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, China has also warned action if Japan does not retract from its decision. China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday blasted the Japanese government for being “extremely irresponsible” in its decision. Moreover, China has found support in South Korea, which also expressed its displeasure over Japan’s decision to discharge radioactive wastewater into the Pacific.

The United States has, however, accepted Japan’s approach to clean up the disabled Fukushima nuclear plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hailed Japan’s efforts as transparent and praised the coordination with IAEA.

Fukushima crisis

The Fukushima crisis had begun in March 2011, after a huge earthquake and tsunami ripped through northeastern Japan leaving more than 19,000 people dead. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors resulted in the country’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. Tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated from the area, in many cases never to return.

Almost a decade has passed ever since but the clean-up at the crippled plant is far from completed. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium.

There are now about 1.25 million tons of wastewater stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the plant site. The water continues to accumulate at a rate of about 170 tons a day, and releasing all of it is expected to take decades.

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