Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Tuesday that more than 264 million gallons of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant — which was destroyed in 2011 by a tsunami — will be released into the ocean.
The treated radioactive water has been stored in tanks on the plant site since the tsunami, and will go through additional filtration processes to meet international standards before being released into the ocean in at least two years time, with the release process expected to take place over several decades.
“Japan’s government argues that the release will be safe because the water has been processed to remove almost all radioactive elements and will be diluted,” Yahoo! News reported, adding that “[Japan] has support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which says the release is similar to processes for disposing of waste water from nuclear plants elsewhere in the world.”
“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.
The announcement has sparked a severe backlash from both local and international communities.
“They told us that they wouldn’t release the water into the sea without the support of fishermen,” said Kanji Tachiya, the head of a local fisheries cooperative in Fukushima. “We can’t back this move to break that promise and release the water into the sea unilaterally.”
China, South Korea, and Taiwan also vocally oppose Japan’s plan, with each country having coastlines nearby.
“Despite doubts and opposition from home and abroad, Japan has unilaterally decided to release the Fukushima nuclear wastewater into the sea before exhausting all safe ways of disposal and without fully consulting with neighboring countries and the international community,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing, according to Bloomberg News. “This is highly irresponsible.”
“This approach is extremely irresponsible and will seriously damage international public health and safety and the vital interests of the people of neighboring countries,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on its website, according to The Guardian.
Greenpeace Japan also “strongly condemned” the announcement, saying that it “completely disregards the human rights and interests of the people in Fukushima, wider Japan and the Asia-Pacific region.”
“The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima,” said Kazue Suzuki, the group’s climate and energy campaigner.
“The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive waste. It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts.”
Conversely, the United States government is supportive of Japan’s decision. “We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site,” wrote secretary of state Antony Blinken on Twitter.
We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site. We look forward to the Government of Japan’s continued coordination with the @iaeaorg.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) April 13, 2021
The radioactive water is currently being stored in more than 1,000 tanks, growing by around 140 tonnes — equivalent to almost 37,000 gallons — per day. Space at the Fukushima site is expected to run out next fall.
There is reportedly enough radioactive water stored to “fill more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”
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