Fisherman Haru Ono's fishing boats are pictured at Tsurushimama fishing port, Shinchi-machi in Fukushima Prefecture, some 60 km north of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on August 21, 2023.
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Japan is expected to begin releasing vast amounts of purified radioactive water from the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, a highly controversial move that has drawn sharp criticism from neighboring countries.
The imminent water release comes more than a decade after Japan was rockedthe second worst nuclear disasterin history. A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant, located on Japan's east coast, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of the capital, Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio KishidaHe saidearlier this week the country planned to release roughly 1.3 million metric tons of treated wastewater - enough to fill about 500 Olympic-size swimming pools - from the destroyed Fukushima plant into the sea from Thursday, depending on weather conditions.
The Japanese government has repeatedly said the release of treated water is safe, and the UN nuclear watchdog has backed the move. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in early July that Tokyo's plans were in line with international standards and would have "insignificant" impact on people and the environment. The process will last for decades.
Neighboring countries, however, are far from happy.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) speaks during a meeting with representatives of the Inter-Ministerial Council on Polluted Water, Treated Water and Decommissioning and the Inter-Ministerial Council on the Continued Implementation of the ALPS Treated Water Management Basic Policy, at the Prime Minister's Office, on August 22, 2023, in Tokyo. , Japan. (Photo by Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Zuma Press/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Rodrigo Reyes Marin | Zuma Press | Bazen | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Local fishing groups iUN human rights expertsexpressed concern about the potential threat to the marine environment and public health, doccampaignerto say that not all possible impacts have been studied.
Japan says the process of releasing the filtered and diluted water is a necessary step to decommissioning the plant and that a relatively quick solution is needed because the treated water storage tanks will soon reach capacity.
Regionally, China has proven to be one of the fiercest opponents of Japan's plans.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on TuesdaydefendantTokyo had been "grossly selfish and irresponsible" by continuing to dump the water, adding that the ocean should be treated as a common good for humanity, "not as a sewer for Japan's nuclear-contaminated water."
"China strongly urges Japan to stop its misdeeds, cancel the ocean discharge plan, communicate with neighboring countries with sincerity and goodwill, dispose of nuclear-contaminated water in a responsible manner, and accept rigorous international supervision," Wang said at a press conference.
A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in London told CNBC via email that they are not in a position to respond to individual third-party comments. They added that the Japanese government "continued to communicate transparently and scientifically" about the safety of releasing water through a filtration system called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) at conferences and bilateral meetings "with all interested parties."
"The Japanese government will never release 'contaminated water' that exceeds regulatory standards into the sea," the spokesman said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, meanwhile, is "strongly opposed" to the release of wastewater from the Fukushima plant. Responding to Japan's announcement,Hong Kong has announced import restrictionsto some Japanese food products.
South Korean protesters take part in a rally against the Japanese government's decision to release purified radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean on August 22, 2023 in Seoul, South Korea.
Chung Sung-jun | Vijesti Getty Images | Getty Images
South Korea, sometimes the lone voice of regional support for Japan,He saidsees no scientific problem with the plan to release treated water. However, a statement issued on Tuesday made it clear that the government "does not necessarily agree with or support the plan".
Hundreds of activists in South Korea gathered in the capital Seoulearlier this monthrally against Japan's plan to dump treated water into the ocean.
Both China and South Korea have banned the import of fish from the Fukushima area.
Nigel Marks, an associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, said the water problem at Fukushima was down to tritium - a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is released as part of the routine operation of nuclear power plants.
"Tritium releases far greater than planned at Fukushima have occurred for about sixty years with a perfect safety record," Marks told CNBC via email.
"It begs the question of how the Fukushima water became such a PR nightmare, given that from a radiation safety perspective, tritium is essentially harmless," he continued. "The fundamental problem is that the release sounds bad. The typical person is not aware that their own body is radioactive, nor does they have a sense of the scale of how much radiation there is, or how little."
"At this point, science has to step in and have a say - after all, tritium is produced in the upper atmosphere every day; in fact, one year of water in Fukushima has the same amount of tritium as four hours of rain around the Earth," Marks said.
"That's basically why the water in Fukushima isn't a problem at all - there's already a small amount of tritium around us (harmlessly doing nothing) and a little extra bit won't matter one bit."
Fisherman Haruo Ono stands on one of his fishing boats at Tsurushihama fishing port, Shinchi-machi in Fukushima prefecture, some 60 km north of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on August 21, 2023, ahead of the government's plan to start releasing treated water from plants in the Pacific the ocean.
Philip Fong | Afp | Getty Images
Tony Hooker, director of the Center for Radiation Research, Education and Innovation at the University of Adelaide in Australia, welcomed news of the imminent release of purified water to Japan. He added that likely comprehensive monitoring of the environment around the Fukushima release site should help ease public fears.
"I would like to reiterate that the release of tritium from nuclear facilities into waterways has been and is being undertaken around the world without any evidence of environmental or human health impacts," Hooker told CNBC via email.
"While the plan is scientifically sound and robust, importance should be attached to independent testing and regulatory oversight, including environmental monitoring, to ensure that there are no accidental releases of other radionuclides," he added. "This will also hopefully satisfy the public's confidence in the publication."
A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in London said the water being discharged "is sufficiently purified through the ALPS until the concentration of radioactive materials other than tritium is below the regulatory standard and then further diluted before discharge".
They added that after dilution, tritium concentrations will be one-fortieth of the regulatory standard and one-seventh of the World Health Organization standard for drinking water.
Fishing groups in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines have it allcriticizedthe release of treated wastewater from a nuclear power plant, fearing that it could affect regional resources and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Analysts of the environmental protection group GreenpeaceHe saidthey were "deeply disappointed and outraged" by Japan's decision to release purified radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
"Instead of engaging in an honest debate about this reality, the Japanese government has opted for a bogus solution – decades of deliberate radioactive contamination of the marine environment – at a time when the world's oceans are already facing enormous stress and pressure," said Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear expert. in Greenpeace East Asia.
"This is an affront that violates the human rights of the people and communities in Fukushima, and other neighboring prefectures and the wider Asia-Pacific region."