Operators of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Wednesday unveiled plans to construct an undersea tunnel to release more than 1 million tonnes of treated water from the site into the ocean.
Plans for the 1km tunnel were announced after the Japanese government decided in April to release the accumulated water in 2023.
Ministers have said that the release should be safe because the water is to be processed to remove almost all radioactive elements, then diluted.
However, the decision triggered an outcry from neighboring countries and fierce opposition from local fishing communities.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said that it plans to start building the tunnel by March next year after carrying out feasibility studies and obtaining approval from authorities.
With a diameter of about 2.5m and stretching east into the Pacific, the tunnel is to carry 1.27 million tonnes of treated water from tanks at the plant.
That includes water used for cooling the plant, which was crippled after going into meltdown following a huge 2011 tsunami, as well as rain and groundwater that seeps in daily.
An extensive pumping and filtration system extracts tonnes of newly contaminated water each day and filters out most radioactive elements.
However, fishing communities fear that releasing the water would undermine years of work in restoring consumer confidence in local seafood.
The plant’s chief decommissioning officer, Akira Ono, said that releasing the water through a tunnel would help prevent it from flowing back to shore.
“We will thoroughly explain our safety policies and the measures we are taking against reputation damage so that we can dispel concerns held by people involved in fisheries” and other industries, Ono said.
In a statement, TEPCO said that it was ready to pay compensation for reputational damage related to the release.
TEPCO also said it would accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safety of the release.
The agency has endorsed Japan’s decision.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called disposing of the water an “inevitable task” in the decades-long process of decommissioning the nuclear plant.
Debate over how to handle the water has dragged on for years, as space to store it at the site runs out.
The filtration process removes most radioactive elements from the water, but some remain, including tritium.
Experts say that the element is only harmful to humans in large doses, and with dilution, the treated water poses no scientifically detectable risk.
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