The government promises to make the water safe before release, but the plan is quickly condemned.
Japan says it will bring more than a million tons of contaminated water back into the sea from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant. This decision was quickly condemned by South Korea and environmental groups and is likely to upset the fishing industry.
Work on the release of the water will begin in about two years, according to the government, and the whole process is expected to take decades.
Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the facility, will handle the process.
“Provided that the established regulatory standards are strictly observed, we will choose the release of oceans,” the government said in a statement after the responsible ministers had formalized the decision.
The water, equivalent to around 500 Olympic swimming pools, has been treated but has to be filtered again to remove harmful isotopes. It is also diluted to meet international standards before being released into the ocean.
An aerial photo of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma City, Fukushima Prefecture, taken in February, shows the storage tanks for the contaminated water [Kyodo/via Reuters]The South Korean government said the decision was “totally unacceptable” and would file a formal complaint with Japan.
At a demonstration outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said some protesters viewed the move as “nuclear terrorism”.
Greenpeace Japan said it “strongly condemned” the decision.
“The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima,” said Kazue Suzuki, a climate change and energy activist with Greenpeace Japan, in a statement. “The government made the totally unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific with radioactive waste. Instead of using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by long-term storage and processing of the water, they opted for the cheapest option. “
On Monday, the environmental group announced that it had collected 183,754 signatures from Japan and South Korea in a petition against the plan.
Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said the proposed discharge would also constitute a violation of Japan’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that the move would be “heavily opposed” in the coming months.
The announcement of the plan 10 years after the nuclear power plant was destroyed by a tsunami triggered by one of the most powerful earthquakes is another blow to the Fukushima fishing industry, which has been opposed to its release for years.
Five United Nations special rapporteurs said in March that the contaminated water continues to pose a risk and that the plan to discharge the oceans cannot be an “acceptable solution”.
The water that was used to cool the reactors after the core meltdown in March 2011 is currently stored in tanks in and around the facility on the northeast coast of Japan.
State Department spokesman Ned Price noted that Japan had dealt with the aftermath of the disaster in “close coordination” with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and implications, has been transparent about its decision and appears to have taken an approach that meets globally recognized standards for nuclear safety,” Price said in a statement.
The tsunami in March 2011 overwhelmed the nuclear power plant and triggered a core meltdown [File: Air Photo Service/Handout via Reuters]Tens of thousands of people were evacuated after the disaster and, according to the United Nations, around 40,000 people are still unable to return to their homes due to radioactive contamination. The shutdown of the facility and the cleaning of the radiation is expected to take decades.
The decision will be made about three months before the Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some events are said to take place within 60 kilometers of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi plant.