Release of Water from Fukushima Nuclear Plant Begins

7 Sep 2023 by The Water Diplomat

On August 24, Japan began the process of releasing water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The position of Japan is that a special process is being applied, with many precautions taken, one which is "common practice in the nuclear industry worldwide". The water has been filtered beforehand to remove most of its radioactive substances, with the exception of tritium. The process of release of water into the sea will be very gradual, lasting until 2050. The amount of treated water discharged each day will not exceed 500 m3. The first discharge is expected to last around 17 days, and will involve some 7,800 m3 of plant water containing tritium, a radioactive substance that is only dangerous in highly concentrated doses.

Japan plans to release this water with significant dilution beforehand, so that its radioactivity level does not exceed 1,500 becquerels (Bq) per liter. According to Japan, three further discharges are planned between now and the end of March, for volumes equivalent to the first.  Statistically, more than 1.3 million m3 of wastewater stored to date at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant site will be discharged into the Pacific Ocean, from rainwater, groundwater and the injections needed to cool the cores of the reactors that melted down after the March 2011 tsunami devastated the country's northeast coast. The project was first announced in 2018, and it was only last July that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is overseeing the operation, gave the go-ahead, deeming the project to comply "with international standards" and to have a "negligible radiological impact on the population and the environment". In August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was "satisfied with Japan's plans". Japan has coordinated closely and proactively with the IAEA on its plans, and they have conducted a transparent, science-based process, he noted.


But this operation was launched in the face of opposition, particularly from China, which described the move as "selfish and irresponsible".  Even Japanese fishermen see things differently, and are worried about the image of their product, especially as China has banned imports of food from ten Japanese counties, including Fukushima, since July. Hong Kong and Macao took similar measures this week, according to media reports. While other Asia-Pacific states with better relations with Japan, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Fiji and the Cook Islands, have expressed their confidence, opponents continue to defend their ideas and claim that the ocean is a humanitarian and common good.  Demonstrations against the dumping have already taken place in South Korea. On the first day of the operation, there was a rally in front of the Power Plant, but few demonstrators were there, AFP noted.   Although Seoul had announced its support for the plan, on August 12 a civic association demanded that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. put an end to its ocean dumping project.

The South Korean court eventually rejected the complaint. However, Seoul hopes that Tokyo will share information, allow access to its experts and immediately halt any dangerous release. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tokyo would continue to work closely with Seoul.