Earthquake hit nuclear plant water release set to begin tomorrow

The announcement by the Japanese government that it will begin the discharge of water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant tomorrow has prompted renewed criticism from environmental groups.

The country’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, revealed yesterday he had asked the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), “to swiftly prepare for the water discharge” in accordance with plans approved by nuclear regulators, adding that the release would begin on Thursday, “weather and ocean conditions permitting”.

He added that disposing of more than 1 million tonnes of water being stored at the site was an essential part of the long and complex process to decommission the plant.

However the announcement has prompted criticism from China, and environmental groups including Greenpeace.

Greenpeace Japan said the decision disregards scientific evidence, violates the human rights of communities in Japan and the Pacific region, and is non-compliant with international maritime law.

“The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) – the nuclear power plants’ operators – falsely assert that there is no alternative to the decision to discharge and that it is necessary to move towards final decommissioning,” it added. “This further highlights the failure of the decommissioning plan for the nuclear plants destroyed in the 2011 earthquake, stating that tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water will continue to increase with no effective solution.”

“We are deeply disappointed and outraged by the Japanese Government’s announcement to release water containing radioactive substances into the ocean. Despite concerns raised by fishermen, citizens, Fukushima residents, and the international community, especially in the Pacific region and neighbouring countries, this decision has been made,” said Hisayo Takada, project manager at Greenpeace Japan.

The release has been supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  but Greenpeace said the support was based on flawed data.

“The IAEA has failed to investigate the operation of the ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System), has completely ignored the highly radioactive fuel debris that melted down which continues every day to contaminate ground water – nearly 1000 cubic meters every ten days,” it added. “Furthermore, the discharge plan has failed to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment, as required by its international legal obligations, given that there is a risk of significant transboundary harm to neighbouring countries. The IAEA is not tasked with protecting the global marine environment but it should not encourage a state to violate it.”

“The myth is being perpetuated that discharges are necessary for decommissioning. But the Japanese government itself admits that there is sufficient water storage space in Fukushima Daiichi. Long-term storage would expose the current government decommissioning roadmap as flawed, but that is exactly what needs to happen. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station is still in crisis, posing unique and severe hazards, and there is no credible plan for its decommissioning,”  emphasized Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia.

Greenpeace said as of 8 June 2023, there were 1,335,381 cubic meters of radioactive wastewater stored in tanks, but due to the failure of the ALPS) processing technology, approximately 70% of this water will have to be processed again.

“Scientists have warned that the radiological risks from the discharges have not been fully assessed, and the biological impacts of tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90 and iodine-129, which will be released in the discharges, have been ignored,” it added.