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Japan Announces Start of Fukushima Water Release Process

Japan’s Plan to Release Treated Radioactive Water Draws Criticism

Japan’s decision to release over 1 million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean has sparked concerns among neighbouring and local fishing communities. The plan, approved by the Japanese government two years ago, is considered vital for the decommissioning of the devastated nuclear power station, which was severely damaged in the tsunami of 2011.

The stored water, which has been used to cool the reactors, is running out of space at the site, prompting the need for its release. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has instructed plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) to make preparations for the discharge, with the expected start date of August 24, pending favorable conditions.

Japan maintains that the water release is safe, a view supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UN nuclear watchdog conducted an inspection in July and determined that the plan adheres to international standards, with a “negligible” impact on people and the . However, some neighbouring countries, particularly , have expressed skepticism, criticizing Japan for not adequately consulting the international community about the discharge.

While South Korean activists have protested against the plan, the South Korean government itself has concluded, based on its own study, that the water release meets international standards and respects the IAEA’s assessment.

The treated water, equivalent to more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, includes groundwater and rainwater that has seeped into the storage containers. Although radioactive substances have been diluted and filtered from the water, there are still traces of tritium, a challenging isotope of hydrogen to separate from water. Tepco assures that the water will be further diluted to levels well below international standards for tritium before its release into the Pacific Ocean.

The discharge will occur off Japan’s northeast coast at a maximum rate of 500,000 liters (about 110,000 gallons) per day. Environmental organization Greenpeace has criticized the filtration process, arguing that a significant quantity of radioactive material will be dispersed into the sea over the next few decades. However, nuclear expert Tony Hooker from Australia’s University of Adelaide has dismissed Greenpeace’s claims as “fear-mongering,” explaining that tritium has been released by nuclear power for decades without detrimental environmental or health effects.

The water release has raised concerns among countries that import seafood from Japan. China has banned seafood from 10 prefectures in Japan, including Fukushima and Tokyo, while seafood imports from other prefectures must undergo radioactivity tests and provide proof of production outside the banned areas. Hong Kong, another significant market for Japanese seafood exports, has also threatened restrictions.

South Koreans are also worried about the plan, as hundreds gathered in Seoul to express their to the discharge. This has added to the concerns of Japan’s fishing , which was just beginning to recover more than a decade after the nuclear disaster.

James Brady, from the Teneo risk consultancy, suggests that while China’s safety concerns may be genuine, there may also be geopolitical and economic factors influencing its strong reaction. He explains that Beijing could use the Fukushima wastewater release as a means to apply economic pressure, exacerbate political within Japan, and even strain diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

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