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Fukushima water release starts Thursday

The Fukushima nuclear plant.

The Fukushima nuclear plant. Photo: AAP

More than one million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water will begin to be released from Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant from Thursday in a plan that has drawn strong criticism from China.

The plan, approved two years ago by the Japanese government as crucial to decommissioning the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), has also faced criticism from local fishing groups, who fear reputational damage and a threat to their livelihood.

“I have asked Tepco to swiftly prepare for the water discharge in accordance with the plan approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and expect the water release to start on August 24, weather conditions permitting,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday.

The announcement comes a day after the government said it had won “a degree of understanding” from the fishing industry over the release of the water, even as a fishing group said it still feared the reputational damage would ruin livelihoods.

The first batch of nuclear water that will be released starting Thursday will total 7800 cubic metres over about 17 days, Tepco said at a briefing on Tuesday.

That water will contain about 190 becquerels (units of radioactivity) of tritium per litre, below the World Health Organisation drinking limit of 10,000 becquerels per litre, according to Tepco. 

Japan has said that the water release is safe. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, greenlighted the plan in July, saying it met international standards and the impact it would have on people and the environment was “negligible”.

Despite assurances, some neighbouring countries have expressed scepticism over the safety of the plan, with Beijing emerging as the biggest critic. 

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in July that Japan had shown selfishness and arrogance, and had not fully consulted the international community about the water release.

China bans seafood imports from 10 prefectures in Japan, including Fukushima and the capital, Tokyo.

South Korean activists have also protested the plan, although Seoul has concluded from its own study that the water release meets international standards and said it respects the IAEA’s assessment.

Prime Minister Kishida said on Tuesday he believed an “accurate understanding” of the matter was spreading in the international community.

The water was used to cool the fuel rods of Fukushima Daiichi after it melted down in an accident caused by a huge tsunami in 2011 that battered Japan’s eastern coast.

-AAP

Topics: Fukushima
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