‘This is a big step’ – Japan releases nuclear wastewater into Pacific

A Japanese critic of the Fukushima wastewater discharge
A Japanese critic of the Fukushima wastewater discharge . . . The since-treated water was used to cool multiple nuclear reactors which were devastated by a tsunami in 2011, following an earthquake. Image: Global News screenshot APR

By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist

Japan’s release of more than one million tonnes of treated Fukushima nuclear wastewater into the Pacific is officially underway.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings has confirmed that the disposal started at 1pm local time today.

“This is a big step and punctuating moment in the process of decommissioning,” TEPCO spokesperson Junichi Matsumoto told news media.

“We will have 30 years or so [to release the water], we will ensure safety and quality.

“We will accomplish this discharge, we have to buckle down ourselves and we have to do it with an intense attitude,” he said.

TEPCO said it was an important step towards decommissioning the destroyed Fukushima power plant after it was hit by a tsunami 12 years ago.

“Per day 460 tonnes is the amount of discharge. So if there are no troubles in about 17 days, 7800 cubic metres of water will be successfully discharged,” Matsumoto said.

Assurances given
Assurances were given in TEPCO’s latest media briefing that if unsafe levels of tritium were detected, the operation would stop until the water has been re-treated through its ALPS processing system and was safe.

Daily monitoring has begun and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also independently monitoring the process on site.

“So, after a sea water pump is operated regarding the vertical shaft, the monitoring will become in service,” Junichi Matsumoto said.

The treated water is being discharged “continuously”, he added.

Henry Puna
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna . . . “We’ve done our best to get Japan not to commence the discharge.” Image: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

Holding Japan ‘fully accountable’
Pacific leaders are committed to holding Japan accountable should anything go wrong, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna said.

“We’ve done our best to get Japan not to commence the discharge, until there is full agreement that it’s verifiably safe to do so. But Japan has taken a sovereign decision.

“And you know that point is now past. What we need to focus on now is to hold Japan to account,” he said.

Puna said Japan had made a guarantee that it would comply with international standards and the Pacific would be watching keenly to make sure it stayed that way.

“Since the announcement of the discharge in April 2021, our leaders have been busy engaging with Japan,” Puna said.

“The statements are very clear. Their collective statements expressing our concerns given our nuclear legacy issues and that position has never changed.”

Pacific leaders are to discuss the issue face-to-face in Rarotonga in November at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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