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IAEA reviews Japan's plan to release Fukushima water

February 14, 2022

Japan hopes the nuclear watchdog's visit will raise confidence for its plans to release more than 1 million tons of water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Environmental activists wearing a mask of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and protective suits protest at Japan's embassy in South Korea
Environmental activists have long expressed their opposition to releasing the water into the oceanImage: Lee Jin-man/AP Photo/picture alliance

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Japan on Monday to review a plan to release treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

Japan hoped the visit would help it push through the plan, which is opposed by the local fishing industry and neighboring countries.

The wastewater has been kept in massive tanks since the plant went into meltdown in 2011, and storage space is running out.

The IAEA team would evaluate the safety and radiation effects on humans and the sea.

Gustavo Caruso (left), director and safety coordination of the IAEA taskforce, speaks during a meeting with officials from Japan during a meeting in Tokyo
The IAEA's Gustavo Caruso (left) is leading a team evaluating Japan's plan to discharge the treated waterImage: METI/AP Photo/picture alliance

"This week, we will conduct a mission to review the action, plans, data, and relevant documents, to assess their compliance against the provisions included in international safety standards," said Gustavo Caruso, director and coordinator of the IAEA's nuclear safety and security department.

How safe is this water?

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the Fukushima plant's cooling systems.

Three reactors melted down, and more than a million tons of water was used to cool the melted reactors.

Japan's government said the water has been treated to remove dangerous isotopes. Some observers, however, note that the water would still have elevated levels of radioactive tritium. Others argue that a gradual release of wastewater, diluted with seawater, would render it harmless.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as TEPCO, plans to gradually release the water in a process expected to last decades.

"We hope to further improve the objectivity and transparency of this process through this review," said TEPCO's chief officer for the treated water management, Junichi Matsumoto.

The IAEA plans to review details of the water, the safety of the discharge, sampling methods and the environmental impact during their five-day visit.

It hoped the mission "in an objective, credible and science-based manner will help send messages of transparency and confidence for the people in Japan and beyond," Caruso said.

Who is opposing the plan?

The 15-member team includes experts from several countries, including South Korea and China. Both neighboring countries have strongly opposed Japan's plan.

In Japan, local fishers feared it would undermine years of work to restore confidence in their seafood.

Japanese authorities regularly conduct extensive testing on food and fish from Fukushima to ensure safety. Tokyo and the IAEA have agreed to compile an interim report on the review later this year.

lo/dj (AP, AFP)