A team of experts sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggested Wednesday that Tokyo Electric Power Co. should consider discharging toxic water from the Fukushima No. 1 plant into the ocean after lowering the level of radioactive materials to less than the legal limit.
The proposal by the international nuclear watchdog was part of its call on Tepco to improve its management of the increasing amount of radioactive water at the crippled facility and ensure a safe decommissioning process.
Such a step would draw an angry reaction from people, including commercial fishermen, worried about further contamination of the Pacific.
“Controlled discharge is a regular practice at all nuclear facilities in the world,” Juan Carlos Lentijo, director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, told a news conference in Tokyo as the team wrapped up its inspection of the plant.
Lentijo headed the team of 19 experts that arrived Nov. 25 to check the decommissioning efforts, including the radioactive water problem and the removal of fuel rod assemblies from the spent fuel pool high in the reactor building 4.
The team, which also inspected the plant in April, submitted a preliminary report Wednesday to the government.
If Tepco intends to implement the water discharge, the report says, it should conduct safety and environment assessments that would have to be reviewed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
There are about 1,000 tanks at Fukushima No. 1 storing a massive amount of tainted water, while another 400 tons of groundwater is seeping into the reactor buildings every day.
Tepco has been running a test operation of a high-tech water processing machine called ALPS that can remove all radioactive materials except tritium from the tainted water.
The utility hopes to discharge the processed water after diluting the level of tritium below the legal limit, but local fishermen are against this, as it would damage the public image of their catches and harm their business.
“Of course . . . public acceptance for this purpose is necessary,” said Lentijo, adding strict monitoring of the impact of the discharge would also be essential.
The IAEA’s report also points out that Japan should look into waste management solutions, such as creating facilities to store radioactive waste from the plant to support the decades-long decommissioning process.
The team will submit a final report in about two months.