The government of Japan is expected to announce plans for the Pacific Ocean release up to 1.2 million metric tons of contaminated water stored at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power facility within a matter of weeks.
A senior official of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, indicated (20 November) willingness to work with South Korea to monitor the treatment of the water and its release into the ocean planned for 2022 when storage capacity at the facility is expected to run out.
The radioactive water has been stored in tanks at the site of the 2011 meltdown following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The water will be treated to remove all radioactive material before its release; however, trace amounts of tritium will remain.
Rather than disposing of the water through evaporation, Tokyo has been pushing for release of the water into the Pacific Ocean, a measure that has been met with some strong opposition by local fishermen, environmental activists, and neighbouring countries.
Details on process and procedures about the monitoring and the release have not been disclosed, despite repeated requests from Seoul, but it is expected that Tokyo will consult with its neighbour countries beforehand.
In a 23 October report environmental group Greenpeace claimed that stored water contains “dangerous” levels of radioactive isotope carbon-14 and other “hazardous” radionuclides that it claims will have “serious long-term consequences for communities and the environment”, including damage to human DNA. Greenpeace has called for further examination.
As reported in OOSKAnews, in early October, representatives of the Japanese fishing industry expressed unequivocal opposition to the planned release of the contaminated water, describing irrevocable damage to the industry for the foreseeable future.
The fishing industry, through the national federation of fisheries cooperatives, JF Xengyoren, commented that much hard work had been done to alleviate concerns about the quality of the local seafood. If the contaminated water were released to the sea, these efforts would be for nought, claimed Chairman Hiroshi Kishi. Regardless of how “clean” the contaminated water is, he further contends that damaging rumors would inevitably occur and that the damage would continue for the foreseeable future.
Separately, a seafood processing federation from Fukushima Prefecture has claimed that even if fish are caught outside the prefecture, if it is processed within the prefecture it is considered “tainted”.
Contrarily, the associations of inns and hotels in Fukushima and the Central Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry have indicated support for the proposal.
But the issue of sea release and the timing of the final decision on its methods extends beyond Japanese industries, with opposition expected from neighbouring countries, particularly South Korea.
As reported in OOSKAnews, UN special rapporteurs respectively on hazardous wastes, rights to food, rights to assembly and association, and rights of indigenous people, asserted in June that the government's short extension for the current public consultation was grossly insufficient. With COVID-19 measures preventing in-depth consultations with relevant stakeholders, the rapporteurs called on the Japanese government to give “proper space and opportunity for consultations on the disposal of nuclear waste that will likely affect people and peoples both inside and outside of Japan.”
The release of the water into the ocean has been described by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as feasible. However, local fishermen remain opposed, fearing the possibility of a consumer ban on locally caught seafood. In addition, South Korea remains concerned about the overall environmental impact of any release. There is already a ban there on the importation of Japanese seafood.