Japan to start releasing Fukushima water into sea in 2 years

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An environmental activist wearing a mask of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga performs to denounce the Japanese government's decision near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Japan's government decided Tuesday to start releasing massive amounts of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years - an option fiercely opposed by local fishermen and residents. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

TOKYO – Japan's government announced Tuesday it would start releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years. It's a move that's fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan's neighbors.

The decision, long speculated at but delayed for years because of safety worries and protests, came during a meeting of Cabinet ministers who endorsed the ocean release as the best option.

The accumulating water has been stored in tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged its reactors and their cooling water became contaminated and began leaking. The plant's storage capacity will be full late next year.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the ocean release was the most realistic option and that disposing the water is needed to complete the decades-long decommissioning of the Fukushima plant. He said the government would work to make sure the water is safe and to help local agriculture, fisheries and tourism.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to releasable levels. Some scientists say the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown.

The government stresses the water's safety, calling it “treated" not "radioactive,” even though radionuclides can only be reduced to disposable levels, not to zero. The amount of radioactive material that would remain in the water is unknown.

Releasing the water into the ocean was described as the most realistic solution by a government panel that for nearly seven years had discussed how to dispose of the water. The report last year mentioned evaporation as a less desirable option.

Under the basic plan adopted Tuesday by the ministers, TEPCO will start releasing the water in about two years after building a facility and compiling release plans that follow safety requirements. It said the disposal of the water cannot be postponed further and is necessary to improve the environment surrounding the plant so residents can live there safely.