Japan’s nuclear regulator on Friday officially approved a plan to dump more than a million tons of treated water from the shut down Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
The plan has already been passed by the government and approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but plant operator TEPCO has yet to convince local communities before going ahead.
The country’s nuclear regulator approved TEPCO’s plan, according to a State Department statement, which said the government will ensure the safety of the treated water and the “reliability and transparency of its handling.”
The plant’s cooling systems were overwhelmed by a tsunami triggered by a massive underwater earthquake on March 11, 2011, causing the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Decommissioning work is ongoing and expected to last about four decades, with arduous efforts to remove molten fuel from damaged reactors among the tasks ahead.
Every day, the site produces 140 cubic meters of contaminated water — a combination of groundwater, seawater and rainwater that seeps into the area, and water that is used for cooling.
The water is filtered to remove various radionuclides and sent to storage tanks, of which 1.29 million tons are already on site and the space is expected to be exhausted in about a year.
According to TEPCO, the treated water meets national standards for radionuclide levels, with the exception of one element, tritium, which experts say is only harmful to humans in large doses.
The plan is to dilute the water to lower tritium levels and release it over several decades via a kilometer-long underwater pipe offshore.
The release, which will stretch over many years and is not expected to begin until spring 2023, meets international standards and “will not cause any harm to the environment,” according to the IAEA.
But local fishing communities who suffered from the nuclear accident fear consumers will avoid their products again if the water is released in the area.
There was also criticism from regional neighbors such as South Korea and China and from groups such as Greenpeace.
Around 18,500 people were killed or missing in the 2011 disaster in northeastern Japan, most of whom died in the tsunami.
About 12 percent of the Fukushima region was once declared unsafe, but no-go zones now comprise about 2 percent, although the population in many cities is far lower than before.
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