New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that there can be no delay to plans to release contaminated water from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant into the sea, despite opposition from fishers and neighboring countries.
Kishida, who made his first trip to the plant on Sunday since becoming prime minister last month, said every effort would be made to reassure local people that disposing of the water in the Pacific Ocean was safe.
The wastewater, which is pumped up from reactor basements and treated to remove all but one radioactive material, has built up at the site since the plant suffered a triple meltdown in March 2011.
Researchers have used snakes fitted with tracking devices and dosimeters to measure radiation levels in the area around the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, which suffered triple meltdowns in March 2011.
“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after being shown around by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).
More than 1 million tonnes of water are being stored in 1,000 tanks at the site, and TEPCO has said that space would run out late next year.
The government and TEPCO in April said that work to release the heavily diluted water would begin in the spring of 2023 and take decades to complete.
The move is opposed by nearby fishing communities, which say it would undo years of hard work rebuilding their industry’s reputation since the plant was struck by a huge tsunami in March 2011, soon after Japan’s northeast coast was rocked by a magnitude 9 earthquake.
The decision ended years of debate over what to do with the water, with other options including evaporation or the construction of more storage tanks at other sites.
South Korea, which still bans seafood imports from the region, has repeatedly voiced concern, saying that discharging the water represents a “grave threat” to the marine environment.
The Japanese government has said that releasing the water is the most realistic option and would enable workers at the site to proceed with decommissioning the plant — a costly operation that is expected to take about 40 years.
“We will provide explanations about safety from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to address people’s concerns,” Kishida said.
Japan has requested help from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the discharge meets global safety standards, including treating the wastewater so its radioactivity levels are below legal limits.
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