Fukushima officials approve treated water release but seek to minimise “reputational damage”

4 August 2022

Fukushima Prefecture and the town governments of Futaba and Okuma have given their approval for Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco) to construct the facilities to enable the release to the sea of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, which include an undersea tunnel. The water, used to cool the melted reactor cores in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear disaster, is stored in around 1,000 huge tanks at the plant containing more than 1.3 million tonnes.

However, on 3 August, the mayors of Okuma and Futaba, the two towns that host the Fukushima plant, and Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori called on the central government to take measures to prevent “reputational damage” to marine products. They made the request during a meeting with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda in Tokyo.

"The plan has not earned enough understanding from Japanese people and residents of the prefecture, as there are still various opinions including concerns over renewed reputational damage," Uchibori said at the beginning of the meeting, which was open to the media. Okuma Mayor Jun Yoshida also urged the government to lead from the front, saying, "We hope people in the disaster-stricken area will no longer suffer from reputational damage."

Hagiuda gave assurances that the plan will be carried out on the premise of securing safety and taking thorough measures to prevent reputational damage, adding, "We will deliver information based on scientific evidence throughout the country and abroad." The Fukushima officials stressed that the issue of treated water is "not only a problem for Fukushima Prefecture but for all of Japan”. For the fisheries industry that faces the risk of damage caused by harmful rumours, it is important to create an environment where their products are traded at fair prices, they said.

But because Tepco's plan to release the treated water containing radioactive tritium it has faced persistent opposition from local fishermen and others. The Okuma and Futaba mayors demanded that Tepco dilutes the amount of contaminated water and carries out thorough management of the planned facilities.

The Fukushima governor urged the company to make every effort to improve employees' awareness of the treatment process, referring to problems that had occurred since last year. In September, Tepco officials said several filters attached to the water treatment equipment had been found damaged, and that it had detected similar damage to the filters two years ago but did not investigate the cause of the problem or take any preventive steps after replacing them.

"We'll continue to thoroughly inform local residents of our future operations and related risks," said Tepco President Tomoaki Kobayakawa. The governor and mayors pointed out that many people in the prefecture and the rest of the country do not fully support the water release plan." We know there are various opinions. We will give explanations that provide peace of mind," Kobayakawa added.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved Tepco's water release plan on 22 July, including the construction of the facilities. On 26 July, a panel of the prefectural and town governments compiled a report saying that the safety of local areas can be ensured under the plan.

Tepco told a press conference on 3 August that it aimed to begin releasing the treated water about 1 kilometre off the Pacific coast next spring after diluting it with seawater to one-40th of the maximum concentration permitted under Japanese regulations. Construction of the facilities will begin immediately. However, the plan could be delayed until next summer due to the tight schedule.

Meanwhile local and international opposition to the plan continues.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated China’s opposition, calling the plan "irresponsible". The South Korean government also expressed concern following the approval by the NRA. Taiwan's nuclear energy council, on the other hand, said it respects Japan's decision as it believes the nuclear regulator made the decision on a legal basis using its expertise.

Image: Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori (center left) hands over documents approving the construction of facilities for the release of treated radioactive water to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings President Tomoaki Kobayakawa at the prefectural government building (source: Kyodo)

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