The Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will proceed to release treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea after determining that it is not a safety concern and despite international criticism.
The decision was announced after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with several members of his Cabinet to formalize the move, which finally comes ten years after the disaster caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
“Disposal of treated water is an unavoidable issue in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant,” Suga explained at the meeting, where he detailed that the plan will be implemented “while ensuring that safety standards are approved by a wide margin and firm measures are taken to prevent possible damage,” as reported by the Kiodo news agency.
This brings to an end the more than seven-year debate over what to do with this stored water, which is expected to fill the nuclear facility’s storage tanks by mid-2022. As of September, the stored water amounted to 1.23 million tons and filled 1,044 tanks.
The process will begin in two years and could take decades, according to the authorities’ projections. A commission of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry concluded in February 2020 that releasing the water into the sea and evaporating it were viable options, although the former was technically more feasible and has been endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Fishermen and local residents have opposed the move due to fears that consumers would avoid eating the area’s produce, while civil society organizations have expressed concern about the potential environmental impact of releasing the water.
The president of the Japan Fishermen’s Cooperative, Hiroshi Kishi, has indicated that this spill is “totally unacceptable” and has again expressed his disagreement with the measure.
The NGO Greenpeace also condemned the decision and stressed that it “violates human rights and the interests of the people of Fukushima, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region”.
The South Korean government was quick to react and strongly criticized the Japanese government’s decision. Seoul, which continues to ban the import of fishery products from Japan, has threatened to increase these restrictions following the water spill.
The authorities have summoned the Japanese ambassador to the country, Koichi Aiboshi, to protest, although they have insisted on their “firm opposition” to the measure, a stance which has provoked protests in the streets and which has been joined by other countries and territories, such as China and Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China has already expressed its “serious concern to the Japanese government through existing diplomatic channels” and has asked the neighboring country to “handle the matter prudently and responsibly”.
In contrast, the US government has defended that Tokyo has been “transparent” at all times and has adopted measures “apparently in line with global nuclear safety standards”.
State Department spokesman Ned Price has qualified that in “coordination with the IAEA,” Japan has taken measures to manage the effects of the nuclear accident that took place in March 2011 at Fukushima, including “radiation monitoring, waste management and decommissioning.”
“The United States is aware that the Japanese government has examined all of its options regarding the management of the treated water currently stored at the plant,” the text notes, pointing out that “this is a difficult and unprecedented situation.”
The European Commission has also reacted, an institution that has limited itself to showing its confidence that the process will be carried out with transparency and guaranteeing “total security” and compliance with international standards in this regard.
“We are aware of the decision taken yesterday to start releasing water from the Fukushima plant into the sea from 2023. The Commission obviously expects the Japanese government to ensure the total safety of any discharge, in full compliance with its national and international obligations,” said European Climate Action spokesman Tim McPhie, who then assured that Brussels will follow this matter and remain in contact with the Japanese authorities.