Contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant may have to be released into the ocean because the facility says it will run out of storage space by 2022.
Japan’s environment minister Yoshiaki Harada said Tuesday local time the move was the “only option” for Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which has been storing more than 1 million tons of radioactive water since the Daiichi nuclear reactor was damaged during an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.
“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Harada told press in Tokyo. “The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.”
The water was being used to cool nuclear cores in the plant to prevent them from melting. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan — struck the Tōhoku region, subsequently triggering powerful aftershocks and a massive tsunami which left over 15,000 people dead and melted three reactors at Fukushima.
According to Reuters, the government is waiting on a report from nuclear experts before it decides what to do about its growing collection of nuclear waste.
TEPCO has said it will run out of space to store the contaminated water by 2022, though it is unclear how much water Harada is proposing dumping out to sea.
Local fisherman groups are strongly opposed to the plan, which could impact the sales of their fish from the region due to public concerns over contamination.
Takayuki Yanai, an official of a fishery cooperative in the city of Iwaki in Fukushima, told Japan Times that the move would destroy businesses and “shatter” progress and safety measures regional fisherman have taken since the disaster.
According to the Japan Times, nuclear plants located along the coastline regularly dump contaminated water into the ocean which contains tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is difficult to separate and is considered relatively harmless. However, TEPCO admitted last year that its contaminated water contains contaminated particles other than tritium, according to the Japan Times, which has fueled concerns.
According to the BBC, scientists have said the move would pose a low risk. More than 200 tons of contaminated water is pumped out of the damaged reactor buildings every day, it added.
Greenpeace slammed early discussion of the move in January, saying dumping the contaminants “was motivated by short-term cost-cutting, not protection of the Pacific Ocean environment and of the health and livelihoods of communities along the Fukushima coast.”
South Korea has also criticized its neighbor’s proposal, as tensions between the two nations continue to simmer. Last month, South Korea summoned a Japanese diplomat to discuss the plan, and the South Korean government has signaled that dumping the contaminants would worsen relations, according to the BBC.
On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors discussed nuclear safety in Vienna, where representatives from both Japan and South Korea continued to trade barbs over the plan, according to Japan’s national broadcaster NHK.