Release of Treated Water: Make This Occasion a Turning Point in Advancing Decommissioning Work

Although the safety of treated water containing tritium has been confirmed, there are persistent concerns about harmful rumors. It is important for the government to conduct tests on seawater and other things in a planned manner in an effort to alleviate such concerns.

The discharge of treated water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. into the ocean has begun. TEPCO intends to release the treated water in stages, while confirming its safety, from a point 1 kilometer offshore from the nuclear plant, using a seafloor tunnel.

The amount of treated water to be discharged this fiscal year is about 31,200 tons, or about 2% of the total amount stored on the premises of the nuclear plant. It will take about 30 years to release all the treated water, according to TEPCO.

Water containing tritium generated at nuclear power facilities is released into the ocean on a regular basis in Europe, the United States, China, South Korea and other countries as well. The discharge from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is a similar disposal method, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that there are no safety issues in the Fukushima case.

The Japanese government and TEPCO should tenaciously disseminate such information and refute false claims about contamination of the treated water.

Regarding the disposal of the treated water, some have called for the continued storage of the treated water on land. However, there are already more than 1,000 storage tanks, and their management costs a great deal in terms of both money and labor. Continuing to hold a large amount of treated water would be a hindrance to the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture.

The start of the discharge of treated water into the ocean is not an ultimate goal in itself; it is only one stage in advancing the decommissioning of the plant.

The decommissioning work will involve the removal of the nuclear fuel debris that melted in the accident and the damaged buildings.

TEPCO plans to begin full-scale work to remove the debris while the treated water is being released. To that end, buildings to temporarily store the removed debris will be needed.

The company will also newly construct facilities to manage the robotic arms being developed for this purpose, and for workers to become proficient in the operation of such equipment and other machinery.

The release of the treated water into the ocean is a step to decrease the number of storage tanks and thereby secure space necessary for the decommissioning work.

The government and TEPCO have set a target date of 2041 to 2051 for the completion of decommissioning work. However, the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is an unprecedented project in the world, and there is a tough road ahead to its completion.

For example, debris removal from the No. 2 reactor, scheduled to begin this fiscal year, will be limited to the collection of a small amount of debris. Moreover, the method for removing all the debris has not yet been determined. There will be many technical obstacles in the future.

Japan’s technological capabilities must be mobilized to tackle the most difficult task of debris removal. It is vital to steadily proceed with the release of treated water into the ocean and to establish a firm foothold for debris removal.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 25, 2023)