Radioactive water from the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima should be released into the ocean or vaporized into the air, an expert panel advised the Japanese government.
The proposal is non-binding and sets no deadline for the government to decide or carry out procedures to deal with the water.
A panel of experts advising Japan’s government on a disposal method for radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday recommended releasing it into the ocean, a move likely to alarm neighboring countries.
The panel under the industry ministry came to the conclusion after narrowing the choice to either releasing the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean or letting it evaporate – and opted for the former. Based on past practice it is likely the government will accept the recommendation.
The build-up of contaminated water at Fukushima has been a sticking point in the clean-up, which is likely to last decades, especially as the Olympics are due to be held in Tokyo this summer with some events less than 60 km (35 miles) from the wrecked plant.
Neighboring South Korea has retained a ban on imports of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima region imposed after the nuclear disaster and summoned a senior Japanese embassy official last year to explain how the Fukushima water would be dealt with.
Its athletes are planning to bring their own radiation detectors and food to the Games.
In 2018, Tokyo Electric apologized after admitting its filtration systems had not removed all dangerous material from the water – and the site is running out of room for storage tanks.
But it plans to remove all radioactive particles from the water except tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate and is considered to be relatively harmless.
“Compared to evaporation, ocean release can be done more securely,” the committee said, pointing to common practice around the world where normally operating nuclear stations release water that contains tritium into the sea.
The recommendation needs to be confirmed by the head of the panel, Nagoya University Professor Emeritus Ichiro Yamamoto, and submitted to the government at a later date, which has not been set.
Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, has collected nearly 1.2 million tonnes of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting since the plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The water is stored in huge tanks that crowd the site.
The contaminated water should contain only tritium after being processed by the plant’s filtration system. Around 80 percent of it needs to be reprocessed before it could potentially be released.
Experts say tritium is only harmful to humans in very large doses and the International Atomic Energy Agency argues that properly filtered water could be diluted with seawater and then safely released into the ocean without causing environmental problems.
But those arguments have not convinced activists as well as some local residents, including fishermen and farmers who fear the release will imperil their livelihoods.
The treated water is currently kept in a thousand huge tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi site.
Plant operator TEPCO is building more tanks but all will be full by the summer of 2022.