The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Japan on 9 July agreed on the scope of technical assistance the Agency will provide in monitoring and reviewing the planned discharge of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station after the 2011 accident.
The signing of the Terms of Reference marks an important step as the document sets out the broad framework for how the IAEA will support Japan when it implements its plan to gradually release the treated water in a safe and transparent way. The Agency’s involvement before, during and after the water disposal will provide confidence – in Japan and beyond – that it takes place in line with international safety standards intended to protect people and the environment.
After the announcement of its basic policy in April 2021 to discharge the treated water into the sea, the government of Japan requested assistance from the IAEA to review its plans and activities against international safety standards and also to support and be present during environmental monitoring operations. Japan intends to start releasing the treated water in about two years’ time, and the entire operation could last for decades.
“The IAEA will play a vital role in monitoring and reviewing Japan’s implementation of its plan. As the eyes of the international community, IAEA experts will be able to verify that the water discharge is conducted safely. This is of paramount importance to reassure people in Japan and elsewhere in the world, especially in neighbouring countries, that the water poses no threat to them,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said.
Grossi stressed the importance of the disposal plan for continued progress in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as tanks holding the water occupy a large area of the coastal site in eastern Japan. Japan’s chosen disposal method is both technically feasible and in line with international practice, he said.
The Terms of Reference were signed by Deputy Director General Lydie Evrard, who heads the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, and Ambassador Takeshi Hikihara, Japan’s Permanent Representative to the International Organisations in Vienna. The document defines the objective of the IAEA’s assistance, how it will be implemented, and its organisational arrangements. The signing allows the Agency to plan and implement a detailed programme of activities including review missions, in line with relevant IAEA safety standards and guidance. The first mission is expected to travel to Japan later this year.
Under the agreed terms, the IAEA will examine key safety elements of Japan’s discharge plan, including:
- The radiological characterisation of the water to be discharged.
- Safety related aspects of the water discharge process.
- The environmental monitoring associated with the discharge.
- The assessment of the radiological environmental impact related to ensuring the protection of people and environment.
- The regulatory control including authorisation, inspection and review and assessment.
An IAEA Task Force will implement the assistance to Japan, which will include advice by a group of internationally recognised experts from member states, including members from the region, under the authority of the IAEA Secretariat.
The IAEA and Japan have been cooperating extensively over the past decade to deal with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, in areas such as radiation monitoring, remediation, waste management and decommissioning. The IAEA’s safety reviews are based on its safety standards, which constitute the worldwide reference for protecting the public and the environment from harmful effects of ionising radiation.