The Japanese utility giant Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, may release more than a million cubic meters of treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean as part of a decades-long operation.
It’s being considered as part of a $200 billion cleanup process that has been largely delayed by the buildup of contaminated water in tanks that crowd the nuclear site, which was wrecked by a 2011 tsunami that followed a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. The melted cores are kept cool by pumping water into damaged reactor vessels.
The water is pumped out and run through the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) and treated. Currently, storage tanks hold enough radioactive water to fill more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Tepco expects it will max out its storage space by the middle of next year, and says that the storage tanks hamper the decommissioning process.
The utility giant has said that all radioactive materials but tritium can be safely removed from the water, and that tritium, a form of hydrogen, is largely harmless. According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the water would be reprocessed to ensure it meets safety standards.
Most analysts expect that the Japanese government will release the water into the ocean after it is treated. However, the move has been met with opposition from fishing communities, particularly in the Fukushima prefecture, while South Korean and Chinese officials also have objected to such a move.
A proposal to release the treated water into the ocean, or decrease its volume by evaporation, has been introduced by a panel under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The final decisions will be made by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who will instruct Tepco to implement the option chosen.
Japan’s nuclear watchdog must also first clear the final plan.
“The exact timing on when the government will decide on the method and the period is yet to be decided,” a Japanese government official told reporters at a press briefing organized by the Japanese Embassy in South Korea earlier this month, the Korea Herald reported.
“We are still evaluating the situation. But it’s true that there are limits to the storage space of the tanks, and the government consider it as a task that cannot be delayed,” the official said.
“The period as to when the water will be completely filled will depend on the level of rain and typhoons this year,” the official added. “We will review the plan considering such situation.”
There still is no plan for where to put the radioactive debris from the reactors.
“It’s no good just moving highly radioactive waste from inside the nuclear reactor to somewhere else in the plant,” Hiroshi Miyano, the head of the decommissioning committee of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, told Reuters. “Where will the waste go? Will it be pulverized? These are the questions that need to be asked.”
The total cleanup effort is expected to take up to 40 years, according to the Japanese government.
Reuters contributed to this report.