Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant Initiates Release of Radioactive Wastewater into Sea

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant Initiates Release of Radioactive Wastewater into Sea

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was devastated by a tsunami, has officially commenced the release of treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. The release was marked by the activation of a seawater pump, as shown in a live video from the plant’s control room. This contentious project, expected to extend over decades, has sparked opposition from Japanese fisher groups, concerned about the potential harm to the reputation of their seafood. Similar concerns have been raised by groups in China and South Korea, escalating the issue into a political and diplomatic matter.

The Japanese government and TEPCO argue that the water must be discharged to create space for the decommissioning of the plant and to prevent accidental leaks. They assure that the treatment and dilution processes will render the wastewater safer than international standards dictate, with minimal environmental impact. However, some experts caution that the long-term consequences of the residual low-dose radioactivity in the water warrant attention.

This release of water comes more than 12 years after the nuclear meltdowns triggered by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011. It signifies a significant development in the plant’s ongoing struggle with a growing stockpile of radioactive water. This stockpile has complicated efforts to remove the highly toxic melted debris from the reactors.

The released water, which has undergone dilution and treatment, will be transferred from a mixing pool to a secondary pool before being discharged into the ocean through an underwater tunnel. Despite this initial release, around 98% of the 1.37-million-ton capacity storage tanks are already filled. These tanks need to be emptied to accommodate new facilities required for the decommissioning process.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized the necessity of this release, asserting that it cannot be postponed. He highlighted the forthcoming experimental removal of a small amount of melted debris from the No. 2 reactor using a remote-controlled robotic arm.

In order to ensure safety, TEPCO executive Junichi Matsumoto clarified that the release would start with the least radioactive water. The final preparations for the release involved diluting one ton of treated water with 1,200 tons of seawater, followed by a two-day storage period in the primary pool for safety sampling. The actual discharge involved a batch of 460 tons being transferred to the mixing pool.

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant Initiates Release of Radioactive Wastewater into Sea

However, Fukushima’s ongoing recovery in terms of fisheries, tourism, and the economy faces a new challenge with this release. The region’s fish catch remains at around one-fifth of its pre-disaster level, partially attributed to a decline in the fishing population. Moreover, China’s increased radiation testing on Japanese products from Fukushima and other prefectures has led to customs delays and export halts, dealing a blow to the Fisheries Agency officials.

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