The government of Japan decided on Tuesday that it will begin releasing treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean within two years amid strong opposition.
Radioactive water has been accumulating inside storage tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since 2011, following a massive earthquake and tsunami which damaged its reactors. The cooling water became contaminated and began leaking. By late next year, the plant’s storage capacity will be full presenting a major problem.
Authorities have long debated on how to deal with this inevitable problem. And now, it seems a decision has been made.
Due to safety concerns and protests, a decision on what to do with the stored water has been delayed for years. On Tuesday, a meeting of Japan’s cabinet ministers reached the conclusion that releasing the treated stored water as the best option, NBC reported.
Disposing of the water is unavoidable in order to decommission the Fukushima plant, said Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Decommissioning of the nuclear facility is expected to take decades. Suga added that releasing the water into the ocean is the most realistic option.
Tokyo Electric Power will begin releasing the water in about two years, following the construction of the facility and compiling release plans that adhere to safety requirements.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged that the government will work to make sure the water is treated adequately so that it will be safe to release into the ocean while ensuring that measures will be taken to prevent damaging local agriculture, fisheries, and harming tourism.
According to Japanese government officials and the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the water contains tritium, which cannot be removed. However, it is not harmful in small amounts. Further, there are other selected radionuclides in the water which can be reduced to safe levels, therefore allowing for release.
The government of Japan is calling the water “treated” not “radioactive.” But experts say radionuclides can only be reduced to disposable levels, not to zero.
According to some scientists, the long-term impact on marine life from the exposure of low-dose radiation in such a large volume of water is unknown.
Environmental groups, residents, and officials from local fisheries have denounced the decision, saying it ignores environmental health and safety. Radiation still contaminates land that is closest to the Fukushima plant and critics say dumping the water will “only impact the environment again.” Other critics have made allegations that the ocean release was chosen for cost-effectiveness rather than safety concerns.