Doomed Japan operators Fukushima A nuclear plant has revealed plans to build an undersea tunnel to release more than one million tons of treated water from the site into the ocean.
Plans to construct the one-kilometre tunnel were announced on Wednesday after the Japanese government decided in April to release the accumulated water within two years.
Ministers say the release is safe because the water will be treated to remove nearly all of the radioactive elements, and it will be diluted.
But the April decision sparked an angry reaction from neighboring countries, and fierce opposition from local fishing communities.
Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) said it will start construction of the tunnel by March 2022 after conducting feasibility studies and obtaining approval from the authorities.
It will be about 2.5 meters in diameter and extend east into the Pacific Ocean from reservoirs at the plant that hold approximately 1.27 million tons of treated water.
This includes the water used to cool the plant, which was paralyzed after the collapse in the wake of the massive 2011 tsunami, as well as the rain and groundwater that seeps into it daily.
A comprehensive pumping and filtration system extracts tons of freshly polluted water every day and filters out most of the radioactive elements.
But fishing communities fear that releasing the waters will undo years of work to restore confidence in seafood.
The station’s chief decommissioning official, Akira Ono, said on Wednesday that releasing water through a tunnel would help prevent it from flowing back ashore.
“We will thoroughly explain our safety policies and the measures we take against reputational damage, so that we can allay the concerns that people involved in the fisheries” and other industries have, Ono told reporters.
TEPCO said in a statement that it is ready to pay damages to reputation related to the release.
It also said it would accept the International Atomic Energy Agency’s launch safety inspections. The agency has already supported Japan’s decision.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, described water disposal as an “inevitable task” in the decades-long process of decommissioning the nuclear plant.
The controversy over how to handle the water has raged for years, as its on-site storage ran out of space.
The filtration process removes most of the radioactive elements from the water but some remain, including tritium.
Experts say that this element is only harmful to humans in large doses and with dilution, treated water poses no scientifically detectable danger.