Fukushima operators to build underwater tunnel to release treated water
The operators of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan on Wednesday unveiled their plans to build an underwater tunnel to release more than one million tonnes of treated water from the site into the ocean.
Plans for the one-kilometer (0.6-mile) tunnel were announced after the Japanese government decided in April to release water that had accumulated in two years.
The ministers say the discharge is safe because the water will have been treated to remove almost all radioactive elements and will be diluted.
But the April decision sparked a furious backlash from neighboring countries and fierce opposition from local fishing communities.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has announced that it will begin construction of the tunnel by March 2022 after completing feasibility studies and obtaining approval from authorities.
It will be about 2.5 meters (eight feet) in diameter and stretch east into the Pacific from the plant’s reservoirs containing about 1.27 million tonnes of treated water.
This includes water used to cool the plant, which was paralyzed after melting in the wake of a massive 2011 tsunami, as well as rain and groundwater that seep in daily.
A large pumping and filtration system extracts tons of newly contaminated water every day and filters most of the radioactive elements.
But fishing communities fear that the release of the water could jeopardize years of work to restore confidence in their seafood.
Plant dismantler Akira Ono said on Wednesday that releasing the water through a tunnel would help prevent it from flowing back to shore.
“We will explain in detail our security policies and the measures we take against reputational damage, so that we can allay the concerns of those involved in fishing,” and other industries, Ono told reporters.
In a statement, TEPCO said it was prepared to pay compensation for the reputational damage associated with the release.
TEPCO also said it would accept inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safety of the discharge. The IAEA has already approved Japan’s decision.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called water removal an “inevitable task” in the decades-long nuclear power plant dismantling process.
The debate over how to handle water has been going on for years as the space to store it on the site is running out.
The filtration process removes most of the radioactive elements from the water, but some remain, including tritium.
Experts say that the element is harmful to humans only in high doses, and with dilution, the treated water does not present any scientifically detectable risk.
© 2021 AFP