The government decided Friday to compile by the end of this year an action plan for discharging treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
Following the decision Tuesday to start releasing water in small amounts in about two years’ time, Cabinet ministers also agreed during their first meeting on the matter to set up a working group to hold hearings to prevent unfounded rumors from causing reputational damage to marine products from the area.
“We will proactively take swift measures to deepen understanding of people in Japan and overseas,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato of the decision to discharge the water, which will be diluted before its release.
Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori, who also attended the meeting, requested relevant ministries and agencies to “work as one to take all-out measures so that efforts to rebuild (the crisis-hit area) and dispel harmful rumors do not suffer a setback.”
Those taking part affirmed their ministries and agencies will work together in monitoring radioactive materials in the treated water and foster international understanding of the discharge.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi has said his organization will play a central and permanent role in monitoring the discharge.
The second Cabinet meeting on the issue will be held around this summer to compile an interim report on measures against reputational damage, while working group sessions will be held several times from May to hear opinions of local governments and fisheries organizations and conduct a survey on residents.
The move came after years of discussions on how to dispose of more than 1 million tons of the treated water, which has accumulated at the complex after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in March 2011.
Water pumped into the ruined reactors at the Fukushima plant to cool the melted fuel, mixed with rain and groundwater that also contains radioactive materials, is being treated using an advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS.
The process removes most radioactive materials including strontium and cesium but leaves behind tritium, which is a form of hydrogen and is said to pose little health risk in low concentrations.
The government’s decision to discharge the water, based on its claim that it poses no safety concerns, has triggered an outcry from local fishermen and neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.
On Thursday, three independent U.N. human rights experts expressed deep regret over the decision, saying it could impact millions of people across the Pacific region.
A joint statement issued by the three called Tokyo’s decision “very concerning” and questioned its claim that the tritium levels in the water stored in tanks at the nuclear plant do not pose a threat to human health.
“The release of 1 million tons of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan,” the statement said.
The three special rapporteurs — Marcos Orellana, Michael Fakhri and David Boyd — said Japan’s decision earlier this week was “particularly disappointing as experts believe alternative solutions to the problem are available.”
“We remind Japan of its international obligations to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, to conduct environmental impact assessments of the risks that the discharge of water may have, to prevent transboundary environmental harms, and to protect the marine environment,” the statement said.
China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao on Thursday summoned Japan’s ambassador to lodge a protest against the decision.
Wu was quoted by the Foreign Ministry as conveying to Ambassador Hideo Tarumi about China’s “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the decision made by the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
China on the same day urged Japan not to go ahead with the discharge “without permission” from other countries and the IAEA.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian cast doubt on the U.S., which showed understanding of Japan’s plan, saying Beijing believes Washington “attaches importance to environmental issues.”
Zhao also suggested China will take countermeasures against Japan if necessary.
Japanese officials, however, have pointed out some other countries operating nuclear power plants, including China and South Korea, have released treated radioactive water from reactors there into the environment.
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