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China, Taiwan, S.Korea oppose Japan's plan to release Fukushima water into ocean

U.S. partners South Korea and Taiwan joined China in opposing Japan's plan to release radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean starting in about two years.

The three Asian governments, all with coastlines nearby, swiftly criticized Japan's announcement Tuesday that it would conduct controlled releases that are expected to last for several decades. South Korea said the move posed a risk to the marine environment and the safety of neighboring countries, while China said it reserved the right to take further action.

"Despite doubts and opposition from home and abroad, Japan has unilaterally decided to release the Fukushima nuclear wastewater into the sea before exhausting all safe ways of disposal and without fully consulting with neighboring countries and the international community," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. "This is highly irresponsible."

The U.S., on the other hand, said the approach appeared to be in line with global standards while the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the global body would help ensure the plan is carried out "without an adverse impact on human health and the environment."

"Disposing of the treated water is an unavoidable issue for decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear power plant," Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

The decision ends years of debate over how to dispose of the water, which is enough to fill more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It has been leaking into the reactors that suffered core meltdowns after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The U.S. backing comes as Suga prepares to become the first foreign leader to hold an in-person summit with President Joe Biden in Washington ahead of a climate conference, where Japan may announce new 2030 emissions reduction targets. To meet its vow to be carbon neutral by 2050, some government officials contend Japan will need to restart almost every nuclear reactor it shuttered in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdowns, and then build more.

"We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

Discharges are common practice in the industry, and Japan has said the releases will meet global guidelines. A panel within Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recommended last year the water be released into the ocean or evaporated. The proposal stipulated that any water released into the environment must be repurified and diluted to meet standards, and that the discharges take place over decades, according to a December 2019 report from METI.

While Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. cycles in water to keep fuel and debris cool at the Fukushima site, fresh groundwater flows in daily and becomes contaminated. That water is pumped out and cleaned in a process that removes most of the radioactive elements except for tritium. Then it's stored in one of roughly 1,000 tanks at the site, which are forecast to be full by mid-2022.

Greenpeace criticized Japan's plan to release the treated Fukushima water into the ocean and said there are other options that should be considered.

"Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option, dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean," the group said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report in April 2020 that METI's recommendations were "based on a sufficiently comprehensive analysis and on a sound scientific and technical basis."

Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council expressed regret about the decision, saying it had expressed opposition to the plan earlier. The body in Taipei said it set up 33 monitoring spots in waters nearby Taiwan to assess any impact of radioactivity.

Hu Xijin, an editor at the Communist Party-backed Global Times newspaper, said the U.S. approved of the plan "to cement Japan's loyalty."

"The U.S. thinks it's far from Japan and has the least risk," he wrote on Twitter. "But ocean currents mean it will face the same risk in future."

Published : April 14, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Aaron Clark