Tons of cooling water are stored in tanks. Because there is no room for much more, it is to be discharged into the Pacific. It is not only fishermen who are protesting.
Where to put the contaminated cooling water? Fukushima nuclear power plant, located directly on the sea Photo: Kyodo/dpa
Despite opposition from local residents and fishermen as well as from South Korea, Japan’s government wants to allow huge amounts of filtered cooling water from the nuclear ruins in Fukushima to be discharged into the Pacific Ocean. Japanese media reported that this decision is likely to be made before the end of October. "We cannot keep postponing this issue into the future without committing ourselves," cabinet spokesman Katsunobu Kato responded to press reports. Economy Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama stressed that without an early decision, the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant would be delayed.
Thus, the evil game with the cooling water comes to the expected end. For seven years, the nuclear power plant operator Tepco and the government shifted responsibility for the problem back and forth while more and more cooling water accumulated. More than 1.2 million tons are now stored in more than 1,000 tanks.
A year ago, Tepco was pushing loudly for a solution, saying there would be no more room for new tanks at the nuclear plant site by summer 2022 at the latest. Previously, 500 tons of cooling water from the reactors and groundwater from the plant accrued daily. Since the ground around the reactor buildings froze, that number has dropped to 170 tons a day.
A Japanese expert group recommended at the beginning of the year that the water be discharged into the Pacific Ocean. Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, echoed this opinion during a visit to the nuclear plant in February. The public hearings starting in April were perceived as token events. While citizens were not invited in the first place, political and business representatives attended only to place blame for the consequences of the discharge.
Protests by fishermen
Restrictions on the sale of seafood were only lifted in February, and already the reputation of these goods is being destroyed, complained Tetsu Nozaki, head of the fishermen’s cooperative in Fukushima. "The government and Tepco must take responsibility for negative rumors and false information," demanded Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori.
The "negative rumors" refer to the level of radioactive contamination of stored water. The ALPS purification system at the nuclear plant can filter out 62 radionuclides, but apparently does not operate reliably. In some cases, Tepco had to repeat the cleaning process because the limits were exceeded. Only tritium remains in the water. Proponents of the discharge emphasize that the radiating hydrogen isotope is a natural component of seawater. Moreover, nuclear power plants would also discharge cooling water containing tritium into the sea during regular operation.
But for the time being, grass should grow over the decision. Due to necessary construction measures and pending approval from the nuclear regulator, the discharge is not scheduled to begin until 2022 and is expected to drag on for many years. Until then, the government plans to subsidize the sale of Fukushima food and solicit understanding abroad for its actions.