Jul 5, 2023 - Energy & Environment

UN agency says Japan can release radioactive Fukushima water into sea

Man in blue vest on left and man in gray vest on right hold a paper agreement together.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, left, and Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Tomoaki Kobayakawa hold an agreement on July 5 at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. Photo: Hiro Komae - Pool/Getty Images

Japan could soon start releasing more than 1 million metric tons of treated radioactive water into the ocean following approval from the UN's nuclear safety watchdog.

Driving the news: The International Atomic Energy Agency conducted a safety review and concluded that a plan to release water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station complies with international safety standards.

Why it matters: The approval comes more than 12 years after the strongest recorded earthquake in Japan's history unleashed a powerful tsunami on the power plant, causing one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.

  • The Japanese government now has the UN agency's approval to start releasing contaminated wastewater from the accident, despite ongoing concern from fishermen, other nations, and some experts.
  • "The IAEA also said that the discharges of the treated water would have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment," the agency said Tuesday.
  • A task force made up of nuclear safety experts from 11 countries assessed the plan for nearly two years and released a report.

Context: The Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 caused nuclear meltdowns, and water was used to cool the reactors.

  • The contaminated water has been stored on-site, with more accumulating over the past decade.
  • Japan's government first announced the plan in 2021, and the country's Nuclear Regulation Authority had approved the plan in May.

How it works: The water stored has been treated to remove almost all radioactivity, aside from tritium, the UN agency said.

What's next: The IAEA will review the safety of the operation throughout the "decades-long process," said Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency's director general.

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