Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will pay a brief visit to the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant on Sunday to highlight the safety of an impending discharge of treated radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean at home and abroad.
His trip comes hours after he returned home from a summit with US and South Korean leaders at the US presidential retreat at Camp David on Saturday. Before leaving Washington on Friday, Kishida said it was time to make a decision on the treated water’s release date, which has yet to be determined due to controversy surrounding the plan.
Since announcing the release plan two years ago, the government has met fierce opposition from Japanese fisheries organizations who fear the reputation of their seafood will be further tarnished as they struggle to recover from the accident. Groups in South Korea and China have also raised concerns, turning it into a political and diplomatic issue.
The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. say the water must be removed to make room for the plant to be decommissioned and to prevent accidental leaks from the tanks, as much of the water is still contaminated and one more needs treatment.
Japan has received support from the International Atomic Energy Agency to improve transparency and credibility and ensure TEPCO’s plan meets international safety standards. The government has also intensified a campaign to promote the plan’s security at home and through diplomatic channels.
The IAEA concluded in a final report in July that the TEPCO plan, if implemented strictly as planned, will have negligible impacts on the environment and human health, and encouraged Japan to go ahead.
While the government sought understanding from the fishing community, it also scrambled to explain the plan to South Korea to prevent the issue from affecting their relationship-building. Japan, South Korea and the US are working to strengthen trilateral ties amid growing threats from China and North Korea.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government recently expressed support for the Japanese plan, but it has met with criticism at home. During a joint press conference at Camp David, Yoon said he supports the IAEA’s security assessment of the plan but stressed the need for transparent inspection by the international community.
Kishida said the outreach effort had made progress but did not give a start date for the water release, which is widely expected at the end of August. He said the decision will take into account safety preparations and measures to address possible reputational damage to the fishery.
He is expected to meet representatives of fisheries groups before his ministers set the date at a meeting next week, Japanese reports said.
During his visit on Sunday, Kishida is expected to tour wastewater filtration and dilution facilities and meet with TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa and other top officials.
A major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 destroyed the cooling systems of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, causing three reactors to melt and contaminating their cooling water. The water will be collected, filtered and stored in around 1,000 tanks, which will reach capacity in early 2024.
The water is treated using an Advanced Liquid Processing System that can reduce the levels of more than 60 select radionuclides to government-specified releasable levels, with the exception of tritium, which the government and TEPCO say is safe for humans if it is amounts consumed in small amounts.
Scientists generally agree that the environmental impact of the treated wastewater would be negligible, but some call for more attention to the dozens of low-dose radionuclides remaining within.