The government on Monday asked a nationwide fisheries federation for permission to pump groundwater entering the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant complex into the ocean if it can keep the contamination level much lower than the legal limit.

In negotiations with the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, officials from Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said they plan to set strict operational procedures for the pumping plan to allay the fears of local fishermen, who think speculation from the project will worsen their prospects for recovery.

The groundwater will be pumped out before it mingles with the highly radioactive water accumulating and leaking from the cracked basements of the flooded reactor buildings, and rerouted to the Pacific Ocean, the officials said.

The measure is intended to prevent the toxic water from building at the plant, which is now dotted with hundreds of often leaky storage tanks quickly built to hold tainted water generated by reactor cooling operations and groundwater seepage.

Plant manager Tokyo Electric Power Co. finished installing a dozen pumping wells for the project in March 2013 but hasn’t been able to try the system out because of resistance from the fishermen, whose businesses were ruined by fallout from the triple core meltdown.

With the tainted water building by about 400 tons a day and its special ALPS filtration systems unable to keep pace and storage space rapidly running out — dumping appears to be the government’s only solution until it can build a giant experimental freezer around the complex expected to take two years.

To allay the concerns of the fishermen, the METI officials are proposing radiation limits that are more stringent than the legal standard for the water it intends to release.

According to the government and Tepco, the legal limit will be satisfied if the groundwater contains less than 10 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive materials, including hazardous strontium-90, and less than 30,000 becquerels per liter of tritium.

But they are going one step further. They promise the water will contain less than 5 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive materials and less than 1,500 becquerels per liter of tritium.

The officials also claimed the radiation levels would be checked before each release into the sea, and that the operator will halt pumping if the contamination level exceeds the limit.

Hiroshi Kishi, the head of the federation, told reporters after the meeting that he understands the importance of the so-called groundwater bypass system and that his organization will make a decision on whether to give the green light to the operation after fully assessing the environmental monitoring system and other measures to prevent the spread of harmful rumors from the project.

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