The Japanese government is set to begin releasing wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant on Thursday, slowly unloading the liquid before the tanks reach capacity in 2024.
After years of planning the water’s disposal and testing its radioactive contents, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gave the green light for the operation Tuesday during a Cabinet meeting.
“The government will take responsibility until the disposal of [Advanced Liquid Processing System]-treated water is completed, even if it takes several decades,” Kishida said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave final approval in July for Japan’s plan to release the water amid public concern domestically and abroad.
The government of neighboring South Korea acknowledged the IAEA’s approval and – while withholding their own explicit approval – did not dispute the organization’s findings.
“Our government has judged that the Japanese side will discharge the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant as originally planned and has determined that there are no scientific or technical problems with the planned discharge of the contaminated water,” said Office for Government Policy Coordination Park First Deputy Park Ku-yeon.
South Korea has demanded that if any increase in radioactive concentrations are found following the release then the entire process be halted.
“The IAEA has actively responded to our request, and prepared and suggested the best plan, taking into account the IAEA’s overall operational system,” Park said.
A massive March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt and contaminating their cooling water. The water is collected, filtered and stored in around 1,000 tanks, which will reach their capacity in early 2024.
Scientists generally agree the environmental impact of treated wastewater would be negligible, but some call for more attention to dozens of low-dose radionuclides that remain in it.
The government announced the release plan in April 2021 and has since faced strong opposition from Japanese fishing organizations, which worry about further damage to the reputation of their seafood as they struggle to recover from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Groups in South Korea and China have also raised concerns, turning it into a political and diplomatic issue.
The government and the plant operator say the water must be removed to make room for the plant’s decommissioning and to prevent accidental leaks from the tanks. They say all the treated water will be reprocessed until it meets legally releasable levels and then diluted, making it far safer than international standards.
The IAEA asked for cooperation from Japan to improve transparency and credibility, and in a final report in July concluded that the plan, if conducted as designed, will cause negligible impact on the environment and human health.