TOKYO — The head of an International Atomic Energy Agency task force said on Friday it was examining whether Japan’s planned release into the sea of treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant was conforms to international standards, but the decision whether or not to proceed with the plan rests with the Japanese government.
Gustavo Caruso, director of the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, said his team had no authority to decide whether Japan should suspend release even if it did not fully meet nuclear safety standards. international security.
The government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, announced a plan last year to start discharging treated sewage into the sea from next spring. They said more than a million tonnes of water stored in about 1,000 tanks inside the plant hamper its dismantling and pose risks of leaks in the event of a major earthquake or tsunami.
The IAEA is cooperating with the Japanese government to increase the safety and transparency of water discharge.
Caruso said the IAEA’s independent evaluation of the plan “will bring confidence to society, to Japanese society, to neighbors and to other member states.”
Its 16-member team, including experts from nine countries including China and South Korea, was in Japan this week to study the water disposal plan. During their visit, the second this year, they met with government and utility officials and visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Wednesday.
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima power plant, causing three reactors to melt and releasing large amounts of radiation. The water used to cool the damaged reactor cores, which remain highly radioactive, has since seeped into the basements of the reactor buildings and been collected and stored in tanks.
The release plan was fiercely opposed by fishermen, local residents and Japan’s neighbors including China and South Korea. Fukushima residents fear that the reputation of their agricultural and fishery products will be further damaged.
Most of the radioactivity is removed from the water during processing, but tritium cannot be removed and low levels of some other radionuclides also remain. The government and TEPCO say the environmental and health impacts will be negligible if the water is slowly released after further treatment and dilution by large amounts of seawater.
Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to tritium and other radionuclides on the environment and humans is still unknown, and the release plan should be delayed. They say tritium affects humans more when consumed in fish.
TEPCO plans to transport the treated water by pipeline from the reservoirs to an onshore facility, where it will be diluted with seawater and sent through an undersea tunnel, currently under construction, to an offshore outlet. .
Caruso said his task force plans to travel again in January to meet with nuclear regulators and will release a final report before the planned release begins. A report on this week’s mission is expected in three months.
Associated Press video reporter Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.