Ensure smooth release of treated water; make true facts widely known

It has been decided to release treated water containing radioactive materials from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government must make it widely known that the released water will not affect the environment, and make efforts to prevent reputational damage to marine products from the water release into the ocean.

The contaminated water that is generated when groundwater comes into contact with molten fuel remaining in the plant’s nuclear reactors is currently being stored in tanks after being treated. The volume of treated water has been increasing at a rate of 140 tons per day, and there are now more than 1,000 tanks.

The capacity of the tanks reportedly will be reached in autumn next year or later. It will take about two years to prepare for the release of treated radioactive water into the sea, including work to lay pipes. Further delay in the situation can be said to be unacceptable.

Based on a report by an expert panel, the government has concluded that it is appropriate to dilute the treated water to a certain level before releasing it into the sea. This approach is supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). European and other countries also actually use the same approach. There appears to be virtually no other option.

Opposition is persistent, especially among fishermen. It is understandable to fear that the fishing industry will be battered by harmful rumors associated with the release of the treated radioactive water into the sea.

However, tritium, a radioactive substance contained in the treated water, also exists in nature and its radiation is weak. Tritium cannot be removed even by purification equipment, so treated water including tritium has been released into the sea from many nuclear power plants both in Japan and abroad. This time, the government intends to dilute the radioactive substance to one-fortieth of the concentration permitted under Japanese safety standards.

The government needs to thoroughly explain the nature of tritium and the release procedures, and ease consumers’ anxiety. It also should consider support measures, such as promoting sales of seafood and expanding sales channels.

China and South Korea continue to restrict food imports. They oppose the release of the treated water into the sea, but the Japanese government must persistently urge them to change their positions. It is also important to establish a system to continuously monitor water quality in the surrounding areas with the cooperation of the IAEA, to improve the transparency of the release process.

The government reportedly plans to release the treated water gradually over the coming 30 years. TEPCO and the government should draw up a detailed plan and steadily carry out the release.

Decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will take 30 to 40 years. The decision to release treated water into the sea is only one step on that long path. In the future, the most difficult task will be to extract the molten fuel. With the tanks occupying the site, the situation was on the verge of hampering work to extract the fuel.

The government spent 10 years deciding to release treated water into the sea. It is difficult to say the government demonstrated leadership to break the deadlock and move forward. It is essential to show its strong determination to promote the decommissioning of the nuclear reactors and the reconstruction of the damaged areas without running away from policies that are unpopular among the public.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 14, 2021.