Japan to start releasing treated Fukushima water into sea in 2 years

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday said dumping treated water containing radioactive substances to the ocean is "unavoidable" and there is "no time to delay" for the reconstruction of Fukushima, Global Times reported.

The Japanese government is expected to hold a meeting of related ministers as early as Tuesday to formally decide on the release, a major development following over seven years of discussions on how to discharge the water used to cool down melted fuel at the plant.

Japan's government argues the release is safe because the water is processed to remove nearly all radioactive elements and will be diluted.

"It would be hard to accept the release into the sea if the Japanese side makes a decision without sufficient consultation", the spokesman said, adding South Korea will "respond by strengthening cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He said the release would happen only "after ensuring the safety levels of the water" and alongside measures to "prevent reputational damage". Around 1.25 million tons of radioactive water has accumulated so far, and around 170 additional tons build up every day.

Work takes places in the damaged No. 4 reactor unit in 2013
Work takes places in the damaged No. 4 reactor unit in 2013 Credit EPA

Almost 1.3 million tonnes of contaminated water, or enough to fill about 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, is stored in huge tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant at an annual cost of about 100 billion yen ($912.66 million) - and space is running out.

Debate over how to handle the water has dragged on for years, as space to store it at the site runs out.

The decision comes about three months ahead of the postponed Olympic Games to be hosted by Tokyo, with some events planned as close as 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the wrecked plant.

"This approach is extremely irresponsible and will seriously damage global public health and safety and the vital interests of the people of neighbouring countries", the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

Cabinet ministers endorsed the release as the best option for handling the massive amount of water that has been stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant since the massive quake and tsunami in 2011 caused reactor meltdowns and leaks of cooling water from the damaged reactors.

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Either method would be "in line with well-established practices all around the world", he added. The process, however, can not remove tritium, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear reactors.

Anti-nuclear activist group Greenpeace hit out at Japan's government for having "once again failed the people of Fukushima".

The plan not only faces strong opposition from the Japanese fishery industry and the public, but also raises concerns and doubts from neighboring countries about possible negative impact on people's health and fishery businesses.

Experts say the element is only harmful to humans in large doses and with dilution the treated water poses no scientifically detectable risk.

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