The construction of facilities needed for a planned release of treated radioactive wastewater into the sea next year from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant began yesterday, despite opposition from the local fishing community.
Plant workers started construction of a pipeline to transport the wastewater from hillside storage tanks to a coastal facility before its planned release next year, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings (TEPCO).
The digging of an undersea tunnel was also to begin later yesterday.
Construction at the nuclear facility follows the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority’s formal approval last month of a detailed wastewater discharge plan that TEPCO submitted in December last year.
The Japanese government last year announced a decision to release the wastewater as a necessary step for the plant’s ongoing decommissioning.
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the plant’s cooling systems, causing triple meltdowns and the release of large amounts of radiation.
Water that was used to cool the three damaged and highly radioactive reactor cores has since leaked into basements of the reactor buildings, but was collected and stored in tanks.
TEPCO and government officials say that the water will be further treated to levels far below releasable standards, and that the environmental and health impacts would be negligible.
Of more than 60 isotopes selected for treatment, all but one — tritium — would be reduced to meet safety standards, they say.
Local fishing communities and neighboring countries have raised concerns about potential health hazards from the radioactive wastewater and the reputation damage to local produce, and oppose the release.
Scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to not only tritium, but also other isotopes on the environment and humans are still unknown, and that a release is premature.
The contaminated water is being stored in about 1,000 tanks that require a lot of space in the plant complex.
Officials say they must be removed so that facilities can be built for its decommissioning.
The tanks are expected to reach their capacity in autumn next year.
TEPCO said it plans to transport treated and releasable water through a pipeline from the tanks to a coastal pool, where it would be diluted with seawater and then sent through an undersea tunnel with an outlet about 1km away to minimize the impact on local fishing and the environment.
TEPCO and the government have obtained approval from the heads of the plant’s host towns, Futaba and Okuma, for the construction, but local residents and the fishing community remain opposed and could still delay the process.
The current plan calls for a gradual release of treated water to begin next spring in a process that will take decades.
On Wednesday, Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori and the two mayors visited Tokyo and asked Japanese Minister of Economy and Industry Koichi Hagiuda to ensure safety and prevent further damage to the reputation of Fukushima fishing products.
Akira Ono, who is the top TEPCO decommissioning officer at the plant, promised the highest efforts to ensure safety and understanding.
“We are aware of various views on reputational impact and safety concerns [of the release], and we’ll keep explaining throughly to stakeholders,” Hagiuda said.
TEPCO on Wednesday said that weather and sea conditions could delay a completion of the facility until summer next year.
Japan has sought help from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the water release meets international safety standards, and reassure local fishing and other communities and neighboring countries.
IAEA experts who visited the plant earlier this year said that Japan was taking appropriate steps for the planned discharge.
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