Release of Treated Water: Transparency will be Key to Prevent Harmful Rumors

It has been decided that treated water stored within the premises of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. will be released into the ocean starting Aug. 24. This is a major milestone in the decommissioning of the nuclear reactors.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the final decision to begin the release after visiting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to inspect the facilities for discharging the water and then meeting with the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (Zengyoren).

In July, the International Atomic Energy Agency compiled a report stating that Japan’s plan to release treated water is “consistent with relevant international safety standards,” and preparations have already been made for the release. There is little point in delaying the release, and it is appropriate to take action quickly.

Opinion surveys conducted by media organizations show that those in favor of the ocean release now outnumber those opposed. Zengyoren remains against the release but has expressed a certain level of understanding, saying “there is deeper scientific understanding of the safety.”

Offshore trawling fishing reportedly will begin in September in the areas around the nuclear power plant. The hope is that the government and TEPCO will promptly release data showing the safety of the ocean after the release begins, and work to prevent harmful rumors.

If the released data verifies that there are no problems with discharging the water, it will help dispel concerns in Japan and abroad.

It will be important for TEPCO to properly manage the facilities for discharging treated water and to continue stable release operations. If problems occur, TEPCO must swiftly deal with them and conduct operations with a high level of transparency, including the disclosure of information.

Debate over how to dispose of the treated water has continued for more than 10 years since the nuclear accident. A conclusion could not be easily reached because some people were concerned that the treated water containing tritium could cause health problems.

Tritium exists in nature, and if the amount of tritium is below the standard value, it will not affect the environment even if it is discharged into the ocean. Tritium is also discharged into the ocean from nuclear power facilities in many other countries. The release of the treated water is inevitable to proceed with the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

China calls the treated water “nuclear-contaminated water” and has begun inspections for radioactive materials on all marine products imported from Japan. The Japanese government must refute such unreasonable measures by presenting concrete scientific evidence.

The government should also make efforts to continue to disseminate information in Japan, to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Fukushima Prefecture’s recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake has been delayed due to the nuclear accident. If consumption of seafood declines at this stage, it will deal an even greater blow to the region. The release of treated water will be a long-term process. The government must strive to repeatedly explain the safety of the process.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 23, 2023)