Japan Announces Plan To Release Treated Water From Fukushima Plant Into the Ocean

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Ten years after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the Japanese government announced that it will release treated radioactive water from the destroyed plant into the ocean beginning in 2023. The decision to dump more than 1 million metric tons of contaminated water into the Pacific ocean has upset local fishers and surrounding countries. Right now, the water is being stored in more than 1,000 tanks that could fill 500 Olympic-size pools, but the storage space is projected to be totally full by next fall. The International Atomic Energy Agency endorsed Japan’s plan to filter then dilute the water before releasing it into the ocean, but environmental groups including Greenpeace Japan “strongly condemned” the decision. 

Why This Matters: A decade after a 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the decision to release water into the ocean is just one part of the prolonged decommissioning of the plant. It’s a reminder of the very long tail of nuclear power disasters. After considering other options like evaporating the water, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told ministers that the current plan is the “most realistic” option, and “unavoidable in order to achieve Fukushima’s recovery.”

Nuclear in Japan’s Energy Mix

Before the Fukushima disaster, about 25% of Japan’s energy came from nuclear power, which doesn’t produce carbon emissions. After Fukushima, all of the country’s reactors went offline and only came back on after passing an inspection by the new national agency, putting nuclear at around 6% of the country’s energy mix in 2020. Over the past decade, renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, have doubled from 9.5% to 18%.

International Reactions

Countries closest to Japan came out against the country’s decision: China and South Korea both expressed “grave concerns” and their frustrations that Japan made the decision unilaterally instead of consulting neighbors. South Korea plans to focus on radioactivity monitoring, and China urged Japan to “re-examine the issue.”  The U.S. was supportive of the decision, crediting Japan with being “transparent about its decision” and taking “an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards.” 

Fishers and Fukushima

The decision comes just as local fishers are returning to full-scale operations after years of lower catches, The Japan Times reports. The industry shrunk in half after the 2011 disaster, and the fishers who remain are concerned that releasing the treated water will lead to “irrational fear from consumers” causing “reputational damage,” as Takayuki Yanai, head of the trawler fisheries cooperative association in the port of Onahama, told The Washington Post“ Recovery is the most important thing for us, and releasing the water will pull back the recovery process,” Yanai said.  In Onahama port, about 40 miles from Fukushima, samples from every catch are analyzed for radiation. In the past 16 months, only one fish has failed the test.

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