Story at a glance
- Cooling water has since been pumped through the plant’s damaged reactor cores continuously to keep them from melting and is stored in massive tanks.
- Japan’s government plans to begin pumping that water into the ocean after removing most of the radioactive material, except for tritium.
- The decision has prompted opposition from neighboring countries such as South Korea and China, as well as environmental groups.
The Japanese government announced Tuesday it will begin gradually releasing treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific ocean in two years.
In 2011, a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged Japan’s northeast coast and cut off power supply and cooling systems for the Fukushima plant.
Cooling water has since been pumped through the plant’s damaged reactor cores continuously to keep them from melting and is stored onsite after treatment in massive tanks. More than 1 million tons of contaminated water are being stored in the tanks, and space is expected to soon run out.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday disposing the wastewater from the plant is “a problem that cannot be avoided” in order to decommission the plant, according to Reuters.
He said the ocean release was the most feasible option, and the government would make sure the water is safe.
Tokyo Electric Power, the plant’s operator, plans to filter the contaminated water to remove most of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen not harmful to humans in small quantities.
The company will then dilute the water until tritium levels fall below regulatory limits before pumping it into the ocean. The radioactive isotope is difficult to separate from water, and other nuclear plans around the world regularly pump water with tritium into the ocean. The process to release all the water is expected to take decades.
The decision has prompted opposition from neighboring countries such as South Korea and China, as well as environmental groups.
“This action is extremely irresponsible, and will seriously damage international public health and safety, and the vital interests of people in neighbouring countries,” China’s foreign ministry said, according to Reuters.
The U.S, however, said Japan has picked an approach in accordance with nuclear safety standards.
“In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and has adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards,” the U.S. Department of State said on its website.
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