Japan’s government has decided to start releasing massive amounts of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years.
The move is fiercely opposed by local fishermen and residents.
The decision, long speculated but delayed for years due to safety concerns and protests, came at a meeting of Cabinet ministers who endorsed the ocean release as the best option.
The accumulating water has been stored in tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged its reactors and their cooling water became contaminated and began leaking.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), says its storage capacity will be full late next year.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the ocean release was the “most realistic” option and that disposing the water is “unavoidable” for the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which is expected to take decades.
TEPCO and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release.
Some scientists say the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown.
Under the basic plan adopted by the ministers, TEPCO will start releasing the water in about two years after building a facility under the regulatory authority’s safety requirements.
It said the disposal of the water cannot be postponed further and is necessary to improve the environment surrounding the plant so residents can live there safely.
In the decade since the tsunami disaster, water meant to cool the nuclear material has constantly escaped from the damaged primary containment vessels into the basements of the reactor buildings.
To make up for the loss, more water has been pumped into the reactors to continue to cool the melted fuel.
The government has said it will do the utmost to support local fisheries, and the report said TEPCO would compensate for damages if they occur despite those efforts.