Fukushima Nuclear Wastewater: Japan Releases Treated Water Despite China’s Protests


Japan began releasing treated radioactive wastewater from its Fukushima nuclear power plant on Thursday, prompting a fiery outcry from China, which described the operation as “selfish and irresponsible”.

The rollout is part of a controversial plan that has met with strong objections from many consumers and some regional countries, with Beijing leading the charge.

Japan says draining the treated water is safe and urgently needed to free up space at the crippled nuclear power plant.

According to state-owned power company Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the country began draining water shortly after 1 p.m. local time (midnight ET).

The company said it expects to discharge only 200 or 210 cubic meters of treated wastewater. From Friday, it plans to release 456 cubic meters of treated sewage every 24 hours and a total of 7,800 cubic meters for 17 days.

TEPCO said that if any abnormalities are found in the discharge equipment or the dilution levels of the treated wastewater, the operation will be suspended immediately and an investigation will be conducted.

A boat will be sent to the port late Thursday to collect samples to monitor and ensure the discharged treated sewage meets international safety standards.

Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 left the water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant contaminated with highly radioactive materials. Since then, fresh water has been pumped in to cool the fuel debris in the reactors, while groundwater and rainwater have seeped in, creating highly radioactive wastewater.

The plan to release the water has been in the works for years, with officials warning in 2019 that they were running out of space to store the material and had “no other options” but to release it in a purified and highly diluted form.

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While some governments have expressed support for Japan, others have strongly opposed the wastewater release, with many consumers in Asia hoarding salt and seafood amid fears of future contamination.

The US has backed Japan and Taiwan has agreed that the amount of tritium released should have “minimal” impact.

However, China and the Pacific Islands voiced their opposition, arguing that the release could have wide regional and international impact, and threaten human health and the marine environment.

After the release was confirmed, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning it.

“The forced discharge of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the sea is a highly selfish and irresponsible act that ignores the international public interest,” the ministry said. “What Japan has done is transmit the dangers to the entire world and extend the pain to future generations of humanity.”

“By sequestering nuclear-contaminated water, Japan has also placed itself in the international dock, which will surely be condemned by the international community for a long time,” the statement added.

China’s customs department has banned food imports from Fukushima and nine other regions this summer.

Hong Kong also confirmed this week that it would ban food imports from parts of Japan following the release of treated water.

Starting Thursday, imports of all live, frozen, chilled, dried or preserved seafood, sea salt and unprocessed or processed seaweed from cities including the capital Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba and Tochigi are banned.

The city is Japan’s second largest seafood export market outside of mainland China. According to Reuters news agency.

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Despite the backlash, Japan argues its plan is safe.

Over the years, wastewater has been continuously treated to filter out all the harmful components that can be removed and then stored in tanks. According to TEPCO, most of the water is treated a second time.

When the wastewater is finally released, it is heavily diluted with clean water, so it contains very little radioactive material. It will travel in the Pacific Ocean through an undersea tunnel 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) offshore.

Third parties, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, monitor releases during and after release.

The IAEA has stationed staff at its newly opened Fukushima office, and it said it would monitor the situation for several years.

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