“We expect the discharge to start from Aug. 24 if weather and sea conditions do not hinder it,” Kishida said after a cabinet meeting in Tokyo, where the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was asked to prepare for the release.
After a two-year review, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded last month that Japan’s program meets international safety standards and will have “minimal” radioactive impact on people and the environment.
“Although it will take decades to remove the treated water, the government is committed to taking full responsibility until it is completed,” Kishida said on Tuesday.
Filtered to remove radioactive elements, the highly diluted water is expected to take more than 30 years in the Pacific Ocean to reduce its concentration of tritium.
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For years, contaminated water was stored in large metal tanks near the plant, one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. But Japan is running out of space to build more tanks to hold polluted groundwater and rainwater.
The pending release has been highly politicized by neighboring countries. China strongly opposes the release, which comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.
“China has indicated on several occasions that dumping nuclear-contaminated water at sea is not the safest or most prudent way to dispose of it. “Japan chose this to reduce economic costs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday. “It would pose unnecessary risks to neighboring countries and the rest of the world,” he said, urging Japan to abandon the plan.
The plan has sparked a backlash in South Korea, which has banned seafood imports from the Fukushima area, even though South Korea’s water release program has been found to meet international standards.
Opposition politicians have expressed concern that the release could hurt South Korean waters, accusing President Yoon Suk-yeol of ignoring the health risks of normalizing diplomatic ties with Tokyo.
“The Yoon Suk-yeol administration turns a blind eye to Japan dumping nuclear-contaminated water into the sea,” said Kang Sun-woo, a spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party.
Fukushima’s fishing and agricultural industries also worry about reputational damage to their products, which still carry the stigma of radiation exposure.
“Our position has not changed, we continue to be opposed,” Masanobu Sakamoto, president of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives, said on Monday after meeting with Kishida.
“Our understanding of the safety of treated water has deepened, but scientific safety and safety from a societal point of view are different. If the water is released, there will be reputational damage,” he said.
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The fishing season in Fukushima is set to open on September 1, and the Japanese government has pledged to collect daily monitoring data following the release to monitor water quality.
On Tuesday, 230 people gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s Office to protest against the release plan, raising slogans such as “Listen to the fisherman” and “This release will affect future generations”.
A step The latest Kyoto poll, 88.1% of respondents expressed concern that the publication would affect Japan’s image abroad. The government will allocate $200 million to compensate for any reputational damage to the fishing industry and $340 million to mitigate the impact on local economies.