TOKYO – Japan Today
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc plans to construct an approximately 1 kilometer-long undersea tunnel to release treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant out to sea, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.
While the level of the radioactive substance tritium that remains in the treated water will be diluted to below regulatory standards, the decision to release it offshore into the Pacific is aimed at preventing reputational damage to local marine products amid an outcry from fishermen.
The undersea tunnel will be constructed by hollowing out bedrock on the seabed near the No. 5 reactor at the Fukushima plant.
It will stretch 1 km east from the plant out to sea, releasing the water into an area of the ocean where no fishing rights are in place, according to the sources.
TEPCO plans to dilute the treated water with a large amount of seawater to reduce its tritium concentration to less than 1,500 becquerels per liter. As the seawater within the nuclear plant’s port area contains radioactive materials, the water will be taken from outside the port.
TEPCO plans to apply to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for a review of the tunnel construction plan and begin preparatory work in the near future. It is seeking to start full-scale construction in early 2022, with the discharge of treated water to begin around spring 2023 in line with government policy.
The operator has also considered directly releasing water from within the plant site to reduce construction work, but the diffusion of tritium remained a key concern. It said it will increase the sampling locations and frequency of tritium concentration measurements in the surrounding area.
More than 1 million tons of treated water has accumulated at the complex since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant in March 2011.
Water pumped into the ruined reactors at the Fukushima plant to cool the melted fuel, mixed with rain and groundwater, which has also been contaminated, is being treated using an advanced liquid processing system.
The process removes most radioactive materials, including strontium and cesium, but leaves behind tritium, which is said to pose little health risks in low concentrations.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government said Tuesday it will buy marine products as an emergency step to support fishermen if the planned discharge of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea causes damage to their sales.
The government is eyeing creating a fund that can be flexibly operated to buy seafood from Fukushima Prefecture and other parts of Japan, according to a plan compiled to help fishermen threatened by reputational damage, government officials said.
The move came amid calls from fishermen to come up with specific measures to prevent reputational damage to marine products following the government’s decision in April to start discharging the water from around spring of 2023.
“We will make thorough efforts to prevent reputational damage being caused and will create an environment where (fishermen) can continue operations feeling assured even if reputational damage occurs,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato at a meeting of cabinet ministers involved in the plan.
Under the measures, the government will temporarily buy and store products that can be frozen or help fishermen expand sales channels for those that cannot be frozen, if demand for domestically produced seafood drops sharply in and outside Japan, the officials said.
The size and details of the envisaged fund are yet to be determined, the officials said.
The government will also instruct TEPCO to show a specific framework for compensation at an early date to work as a safety net in case fishermen suffer losses despite thorough implementation of measures against reputational damage, they said.
TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa told reporters that he will take the government’s instruction “seriously,” adding his company will announce plans for compensation and the water release “as early as possible.”
The government has said its decision to allow TEPCO to discharge the water poses no safety concerns, but it has triggered an outcry from local fishermen and neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.
To grasp how domestic consumers and people overseas view the safety of the treated water, the government will also conduct an online survey and create a system to prevent reputational damage from arising, the officials said.
The government will offer thorough explanations over the safety of the treated water to businesses involved in processing, distribution and retailing of marine products in order to avoid prices of local marine products falling to unreasonably low levels.
Japan also plans to work closely with organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency to increase transparency and international credibility.