Fukushima treated water safe to release at sea as per international safety standards: IAEA 

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The UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded that Japan’s plans to release treated water stored at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea are consistent with the IAEA Safety Standards. 

The Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) was severely damaged by a tsunami that hit the coast of Japan in 2011.    

In a report formally presented last week by the IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, the IAEA also said that the discharges of the treated water would have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment. 

The report said its conclusions were the result of nearly two years of work by an IAEA Task Force made up of top specialists from within the agency advised by internationally recognised nuclear safety experts from 11 countries. They reviewed Japan’s plans against IAEA Safety Standards “which serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment and contribute to a harmonised high level of nuclear safety worldwide.” 

“Based on its comprehensive assessment, the IAEA has concluded that the approach and activities to the discharge of ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) treated water taken by Japan are consistent with relevant international safety standards,” the IAEA Director General said in the foreword to the report. 

“Furthermore, the IAEA notes the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea, as currently planned and assessed by TEPCO, would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment,” he added. 

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. 

After taking the decision in April 2021 to discharge the water stored at the Fukushima NPP into the sea, Japan requested the IAEA to conduct a detailed review of the safety related aspects of the plan. 

Under the plan, the wastewater, which contains hard-to-remove radioactive tritium because of being used to cool down melted nuclear fuel at the damaged plant, will be discharged through an underwater tunnel into the Pacific Ocean after being treated.   

The IAEA accepted Japan’s request and committed to be involved before, during, and after the water discharges. 

An IAEA release said the ALPS treatment of the water stored at the Fukushima NPP has helped to remove almost all radioactivity, aside from tritium. It said that before discharging, Japan will dilute the water to bring the tritium to below regulatory standards. 

Like elsewhere in the world, decisions related to nuclear safety are a national responsibility and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved the plan in May. 

“The IAEA’s review addressed all key safety elements of the water discharge plan in three major components: assessment of protection and safety; regulatory activities and processes; and independent sampling, data corroboration, and analysis,” the statement said.  

Over the past two years, the IAEA Task Force has conducted five review missions to Japan, published six technical reports, and met many times with the Japanese government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and analysed hundreds of pages of technical and regulatory documentation. Task Force members have also several times visited the site in eastern Japan to review discharge preparations there, the statement added.  

The report said that “the IAEA notes that once any discharges begin, many of the technical topics reviewed and assessed by the Task Force will need to be revisited by the IAEA at various times to assess the consistency of activities during the operation of the ALPS treated water discharges with relevant international safety standards.” 

According to the report, the work of the IAEA and the Task Force will continue for many years. The IAEA will maintain an onsite presence at the Fukushima NPP throughout its review and will publish available data for use by the global community, including the provision of real-time and near real-time monitoring data from the nuclear plant, the report said.  

“Additional review and monitoring activities are envisaged that will continue and which will provide additional transparency and reassurance to the international community by continuously providing for the application of the relevant international safety standards,” it added.  

“The IAEA will continue to provide transparency to the international community making it possible for all stakeholders to rely on verified fact and science to inform their understanding of this matter throughout the process,” Director General Grossi said. 

The IAEA’s safety review will continue during the discharge phase. The Agency will also have a continuous on-site presence and provide live online monitoring on its website from the discharge facility. 

“This will ensure the relevant international safety standards continue to be applied throughout the decades-long process laid out by the Government of Japan and TEPCO,” he added. 

The IAEA has said that the Japanese plan to release the contaminated water, being stored in tanks at the plant and expected to soon reach capacity, is safe and that the release is similar to the disposal of wastewater at other plants around the world. 

The Japanese government has announced that the release of water will commence before the end of summer. The country’s nuclear regulator confirmed last week that the necessary equipment and facilities for the water discharge have successfully passed their inspections.  

The Japanese regulator’s certificate is the final step required to begin the process. for releasing more than a million tonnes of contaminated water, while the lengthy process of dumping the treated water into the ocean is projected to take several years. 

South Korea announced last week that Japan’s proposal to discharge treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant meets global safety standards, and it respects the approval granted by the IAEA for the release. South Korea’s approval comes after conducting its own evaluation.   

The IAEA chief said last week that the treated water would be sent through a pipeline to a coastal facility, where it would be highly diluted with seawater and receive a final test sampling. It would then be released one kilometre offshore through an undersea tunnel.