In a significant move, Japan is set to initiate the controlled discharge of water containing tritium from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Thursday, as long as weather conditions permit. This announcement was made by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a meeting held on Tuesday with relevant ministers and other stakeholders involved in the process.
Despite concerns from fishing cooperatives about potential damage to reputation and opposition from local residents and neighboring countries, the government is determined to proceed with its plan. The government has outlined a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes the safety and successful completion of the water discharge, spanning over several decades.
Prime Minister Kishida emphasized, “The government is committed to taking full responsibility until the discharge process is successfully concluded. This includes the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the release of ALPS-treated water, and addressing concerns about reputational impact and business activities.” The term “ALPS” stands for Advanced Liquid Processing System, which is the technology used to treat the water.
Government officials have indicated that the timing of this decision is carefully chosen to allow Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japan Atomic Agency, in collaboration with a third-party private entity, to conduct thorough examinations to determine the tritium levels present in the water. This step is essential for ensuring the safety and compliance of the release.
The commencement of the bottom-trawling fishing season in Fukushima Prefecture in early September has also played a role in shaping this plan.
To address potential damage to the region’s reputation and provide support to the local fishing industry, the government has established two assistance funds amounting to ¥800 billion (approximately $5.5 billion). Part of these funds will be allocated to assist local cooperatives in securing storage and refrigeration facilities.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Kishida stated that the government will actively advocate for the removal of import restrictions on produce from Fukushima by countries that currently impose such measures. Simultaneously, efforts will be made to enhance understanding of the discharge plan both within the country and internationally.
In order to ensure the sustainability of produce exports from Fukushima and maintain domestic consumption, additional measures will be implemented to expand export channels.
Although many countries and regions had initially imposed import restrictions following the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, 48 of them have since lifted these restrictions. As of August 15, a few countries and regions, including China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and French Polynesia, still maintain varying degrees of import limitations.
Recent radiation testing requirements implemented by China have significantly impacted Japanese seafood imports, leading to a notable decline in July. These delays have prompted concerns among Chinese businesses, resulting in some shifting their seafood orders to other countries. The extended customs processing times have led to diplomatic tensions, with the Japanese government formally protesting the situation.
China and South Korea remain critical of Japan’s decision to release treated water into the ocean, asserting that it is primarily motivated by cost considerations and might not be the safest option. Both countries have expressed the need for Japan to engage more earnestly with international concerns and explore alternative disposal methods.
Despite the endorsement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that deems the water release compliant with global safety standards, South Korea continues to uphold a ban on food products from the Fukushima area.
Economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, responsible for Japan’s nuclear power industry, traveled to Fukushima Prefecture to engage with local officials, Tepco executives, and fishing industry representatives. This visit aimed to address concerns about potential business losses and facilitate better communication about the water release plan.
Over the years, Fukushima Prefecture has witnessed changes in its seafood production due to the nuclear disaster. The prefecture’s sea fisheries production ranking had fallen by 2021, along with a decline in production value. These shifts underscore the importance of sustainable strategies for the region’s economic recovery.
The decision made by Prime Minister Kishida follows his meeting with the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations’ head to secure the association’s understanding and approval for the water release plan. Although opposition persists, there is a certain level of understanding within the fishing industry.
The focus will now shift to the Futaba district of Fukushima Prefecture, where over 1.34 million tons of treated water—mostly cleansed of radioactive materials except for tritium—will be gradually released into the ocean through an underwater tunnel. It’s important to note that tritium levels have been significantly reduced to adhere to Japanese regulatory standards.
As confirmed by the IAEA report, tritium poses minimal risk to the environment when kept within regulated levels. However, concentrated tritium can be harmful if it enters the human body.
To validate the plan’s safety, the Environment Ministry and Fisheries Agency will conduct water and fish testing immediately after the release. The government aims to reduce daily treated water discharge to around 50 to 70 cubic meters by the fiscal year starting in April 2028, down from 90 cubic meters in fiscal year 2022.
Tepco will initiate the process by gradually discharging a small amount of treated water, carefully evaluating its dilution and tritium concentration. These preliminary steps will be closely monitored to ensure compliance with safety standards and environmental protection.
By the end of the current fiscal year, Tepco plans to release a total of 31,200 tons of treated water, containing approximately 5 trillion becquerels of tritium.