Govt. OKs plan to release treated water into sea

In Japan, the government has officially decided to release treated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Before that happens, the water will be diluted so the concentration of contaminants meets global safety levels.

The plan has been endorsed by the Cabinet. Japanese prime minister is promising transparency as the process moves forward.

Suga Yoshihide said, "This is a path that we cannot avoid in order to realize Fukushima's regional reconstruction, and decommission the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. We will execute the plan only after ensuring it is safe. Potential damage to their reputation must not stand in the way of, or extinguish the hopes of people in Fukushima for recovery."

The decision comes a decade after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, triggering a triple meltdown at the power plant.

Water is used to cool molten nuclear fuel. It mixes with rain and groundwater that flows into damaged reactor buildings, amounting to more than 100 tons each day.

That water undergoes a treatment process that removes most radioactive material, but it still contains radioactive tritium. After that, the treated water is stored.

There are about 1,000 tanks, now 90 percent full. The remainder is expected to fill up sometime next year.

Treated water will be diluted so the tritium concentration is well below national standards and about one-seventh of the level the World Health Organization suggests for drinking water.

The government will instruct the plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, to secure the equipment it needs to begin releasing the treated water in about two years.

The plan pledges support for the local fishery, tourism and agricultural industries. If their reputation is damaged, the power company would be called upon to provide compensation.

TEPCO President Kobayakawa Tomoaki said, "We will work hard to fulfill our responsibility to strike a balance between regional reconstruction, and decommissioning the reactors throughout the lengthy decommissioning process."

It is common for nuclear plants to release water that has very low levels of tritium into the air or sea. Japan compiled data from some of the nations that generate nuclear power and found that both South Korea and China follow that practice.

Those neighboring countries have expressed concerns about the plan which China calls "highly irresponsible."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, "Despite doubts and opposition at home and abroad, Japan has made this decision unilaterally, without fully consulting with neighboring countries and the international community."

South Korean Office for Government Policy Coordination Koo Yoon-cheol said, "We think this is deeply regrettable. We plan to call for the transparent disclosure and international verification of the overall treatment process of the contaminated water."

The US Secretary of State thanked Japan for its transparency and said his country looks forward to Japan's "continued coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency."

That nuclear group likewise welcomed Japan's decision and said it's ready to provide technical support.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said, "The method Japan has chosen is both technically feasible and in line with international practice. Controlled water discharges into the sea are routinely used by operational nuclear power plants in the world and in the region."

But the Suga administration will also need to gain the understanding of people in Fukushima. And some remain unsure about the process.

A man at Fukushima Station said, "I think as long as it's within international standards, it can't be helped under the current circumstances."

A fisherman in Fukushima said, "No one is satisfied with the decision. A few words from the prime minister, and the process is set in stone. This is wrong."

People in the fishing industry in particular have been strongly opposed to the plan.

The head of a national industry group has released a statement protesting the decision and urging the government to clarify how it will alleviate concerns in Japan and abroad.