The damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has started releasing a second set of treated radioactive wastewater into the ocean. The initial batch, which will be discharged over the following 17 days, represents only a small portion of the tonnes of water which has been collected at the plant.
The initiative is being met with criticism both within and outside of Japan. However, the Japanese government and the plant’s operator argue that releasing the water is an unavoidable phase in the plant’s decommissioning, which will take decades. They said that the water has been treated and diluted to levels that are safer than international requirements.
A tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake inundated three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011. The incident is often recognized as the worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. Shortly after, officials established an exclusion zone, which gradually increased as radiation spilled from the facility, causing almost 150,000 people to flee the region.
Ever since the Japanese government approved the release of water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant two years ago, it has sparked alarm throughout Asia and the Pacific. The United Nations’ nuclear inspector issued its approval in July, claiming that the impact on people and the environment would be modest. However, many people, notably local fishermen, are concerned that the release of the water may jeopardize their livelihoods.
Protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s official house in Tokyo on Tuesday, pressing the government to block the publication. Tepco, the plant’s managers, have used filtering processes to remove over 60 radioactive compounds from the water, but it will still include tritium and carbon-14, which are radioactive hydrogen and carbon isotopes. These elements are difficult to remove from water, but scientists say they pose no substantial risk unless taken in huge quantities since they emit extremely low levels of radiation.
Despite the approvals and assurances, China has strongly restated its opposition to the plan and remains unconvinced that the discharged water would be safe. The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement emphasizing that Japan needed to provide convincing evidence of the safety of this action. They also expressed concerns about the potential for harm to local populations and the global community, characterizing Japan’s decision as self-serving.
In response, Tokyo has criticized China for disseminating information that lacks scientific basis. This exchange of criticisms between the two countries underscores the deep-seated tensions and disagreements surrounding the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima plant which further highlights the complex diplomatic and environmental challenges associated with managing the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the divergent viewpoints held by different nations in the region.
The ongoing release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant is a contentious issue that has generated both domestic and international scrutiny. While Japanese authorities argue it is a necessary step in the plant’s decades-long decommissioning process and insist the water has been treated to meet safety standards, critics, including China, remain unconvinced and express concerns about potential harm to people and the environment.