1.3 billion litres of contaminated water under scrutiny . . .
A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will visit the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Japan next week to review plans to discharge treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been pumping water into the plant to cool melted fuel since a massive tsunami caused a meltdown at the plant in 2011. TEPCO’s current plan is to release roughly 1.3 billion litres of contaminated water in stages starting around spring 2023. The water will be treated to remove most radioactive material and then pumped through a seabed tunnel for release at a depth of 12 metres and approximately 1 km out at sea. The IAEA will hold an online news conference on the matter next Friday.
Efforts to secure Fukushima site costly and troubled . . .
The plant cleanup effort has included a growing fleet of robots, co-created with a team of public utilities and private companies such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Toshiba, and a US$300-million, 30-metre-deep, 1.5-km-long ice wall to keep surrounding groundwater from mixing with irradiated water. Last year, TEPCO announced that sections of the ice wall were melting and in need of repair. Last month, TEPCO said that storage tanks had recently leaked four tonnes of coolant solution but would not adversely affect the wall or the environment. Meanwhile, the critical question of what to do with the accumulating wastewater, now enough to fill more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, has been a point of contention in Japan and the region.
Wastewater release plan stokes local and regional criticism . . .
Environmental activists and fishing, tourism, and agricultural communities in Fukushima prefecture have strongly opposed releasing the contaminated water due to potential environmental impacts and damage to the image of Fukushima products. Japan’s neighbours have also been reacting to the plan. Protests erupted in South Korea in May 2021 when flotillas of flag-flying fishing boats took to the sea in opposition. In April, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry tweeted that “The ocean is not Japan’s trash can” and challenged then-deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to drink the water himself. Earlier this week, Taiwan’s government announced plans to shift from a geographical ban on foods from the Fukushima area to a categorical ban on specific products such as game meat, mushrooms, and baby food. Leaving China and South Korea as the only countries maintaining bans on Fukushima goods, and going against the desire of the Taiwanese public, the change has been interpreted as a strategic move to help Taiwan’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.