UN Nuclear Watchdog Approves Japan’s Plan to Release Fukushima Water Despite Opposition
Japan is poised to receive a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) endorsing its proposal to release treated radioactive water from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima plant into the ocean, despite strong objections from Beijing and some local groups. IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi is commencing a four-day visit to Japan, during which he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and present the findings of a two-year safety review. Japan has not set a specific date to initiate the water release, which is expected to span 30 to 40 years, pending the IAEA’s review and official approval from the national nuclear regulatory body and Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco). The nuclear regulator’s final decision may be announced as early as this week.
Certain Japanese fishing unions have voiced opposition to the government’s plan, asserting that it could undermine their efforts to rebuild their reputations after several countries imposed bans on Japanese food products following the 2011 disaster. Neighboring nations have also expressed concerns about the potential impact on the marine environment and public health, with China emerging as the staunchest critic of the plan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi affirmed that they will continue to explain the plan’s safety to the international community, relying on scientific evidence and transparency. However, through its embassy in Japan, Beijing declared on Tuesday that the IAEA’s report should not serve as a “pass” for the water release and called for a suspension of the plan. Japan maintains that the treated water, which is enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, is safe as it was used to cool the fuel rods of the Fukushima plant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The water has undergone filtration to eliminate most radioactive elements, except for tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is challenging to separate from water. Prior to its release into the Pacific Ocean, the treated water will be diluted to levels well below international standards for tritium. Japanese officials, in a presentation given to foreign journalists in China, highlighted that the tritium levels in the water they intend to release are lower than those found in wastewater regularly discharged by nuclear plants worldwide, including in China.
Japanese officials claimed to have made repeated efforts to clarify the scientific basis behind Tokyo’s position to Beijing, but their offers were reportedly disregarded. China criticized Japan’s comparison of tritium levels, alleging that it was “completely confusing concepts and misleading public opinion.” Grossi is scheduled to visit the Fukushima plant on Wednesday and will subsequently travel to South Korea, where concerns have prompted consumers to stock up on sea salt and other items ahead of the water release. Additionally, he is expected to visit New Zealand and the Cook Islands in an attempt to assuage concerns related to the plan, according to media reports.