Japan will begin dumping more than one million tons of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. The process, which will take decades to complete, is part of the plan that the Japanese government approved two years ago to dismantle the nuclear power plant that was devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011. The Japanese government has the support of the International Energy Agency Agency (IAEA) and has assured that it will take the necessary long-term measures to carry out the spill safely. However, the controversial project has generated strong opposition among local residents, especially fishing cooperatives, who fear their reputations will be damaged, as well as from neighboring countries and environmental groups.
“I have asked TEPCO (the operator of the plant) to prepare quickly to start the discharge of the waters, in accordance with the plan approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. I hope that the download will begin on August 24, weather conditions permitting,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Tuesday.
All attention will now focus on the Futaba district of Fukushima prefecture, where the now deactivated Daiichi plant is located. From there, 1.34 million tons of water – enough to fill 500 Olympic swimming pools – will be released from Thursday, which were used to cool the reactor’s fuel rods, after they melted during the accident.
Protesters against the water spill from the nuclear power plant on Tuesday in Tokyo. FRANCK ROBICHON (EFE)
Until now, the highly contaminated water the plant generates has been filtered through an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), a circuit that removes most radioactive elements, with the exception of tritium. (an isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to separate from water), and is again stored in drums. Faced with the inability to continue accumulating the water in the tanks installed on the land of the plant due to lack of physical space, the Japanese Government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.), made the decision two years ago to gradually release them into the sea, through of an underwater tunnel. Japan ensures that tritium levels will be reduced to 1/40 of the concentration allowed by Japanese regulations, a figure well below internationally approved levels.
The announcement of a date to start the process comes after months of deliberations and a day after Kishida met with the president of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, in an attempt to win his approval for the imminent release of the waters. . Although the group’s opposition to the plan was confirmed, Tokyo reported that the proposal had gained “some degree of understanding” from the industry. “I promise that we will take full responsibility in ensuring that the fish farming sector can continue to operate normally, even if it takes decades,” the Japanese president said on Monday.
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“A surprise attack”
This Tuesday, workers in the coastal areas of Fukushima prefecture have criticized the decision, which they consider “a surprise attack.” “It’s like a plan to release the water before public opposition breaks out,” Takashi Nakajima, a supermarket owner, told the Kyodo news agency. “What is caught in the area will not be sold, the situation of 2012 will be repeated,” he recalled, referring to the moment when fishing began in tests in nearby waters after the nuclear accident.
In Tokyo, some 230 anti-nuclear activists have gathered this Tuesday in front of the prime minister’s office to urge the government to “listen to the voices of the fishermen.” “We don’t know how long the water spill will last, leaving future generations in debt,” Masashi Tani, director of the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, an NGO founded in 1955 seeking an international ban, told protesters. of nuclear weapons. “The priority should be to find a concrete path towards the decommissioning of nuclear reactors,” Tani was quoted as saying by Kyodo.
The opposition comes despite the fact that the IAEA, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, backed the plan on July 4. The institution, which conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the Japanese project over two years, concluded that the dumping method is “consistent with international safety standards.” In the report in which it gives the green light to the project, the IAEA assured that the “gradual and controlled” discharges into the sea will have a “negligible radioactive impact” on people and the environment. From the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture they hope to have results available at the beginning of September on the state of the discharged water, as well as the fish in the waters near the plant.
IAEA support has not been enough for Greenpeace either. In a statement, the environmental group said the decision “disregards scientific evidence, violates the human rights of communities in Japan and the Pacific region, and violates international maritime law.” Hisayo Takada, project manager for Japan, said the organization is “deeply disappointed and upset.”
The rejection of the release of contaminated water has not stopped increasing throughout the summer among neighboring countries, with China standing out as the most critical voice. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin lashed out again at the Japanese government for “ignoring domestic and international opposition, as well as doubts that have been raised about the legitimacy, legality and safety of the dumping plan, and the potential risks to the global marine environment and human health” and reiterated, as it has been doing since July, that it is a “stubborn, selfish and irresponsible” decision.
“Once the polluted water is released into the ocean, there will be no way to recover it. We urge Japan to take seriously the legitimate concerns of the Japanese people and the international community, stop making wrong decisions and abort the plan,” Wang said. China has already banned seafood imports from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima. and Tokyo, while those of the rest must pass radioactivity tests.
Although the plan also drew strong protests in South Korea, Seoul recently concluded from its own study that the project complies with international standards, adding that it complies with the IAEA’s assessment. For their part, the Pacific island nations have been divided in opinion, given their own history as sites where the United States and France conducted nuclear tests. Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka endorsed the IAEA report in a statement on Monday, but acknowledged that the issue is controversial in the region.
In a national survey published two weeks ago by the Japanese agency Kyodo, 88.1% of those surveyed expressed concern about the economic and image damage that the discharge of water could cause, while 81.9% expressed that the Tokyo’s explanations are insufficient.
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