TOKYO – Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) on Wednesday gave a preliminary approval to a Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO) plan to release seawater from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant, citing safety concerns.
The NRA plans to make a decision on the final approval after a month-long public comment period, an NRA official who works on the matter said.
In 2021, the Japanese government approved the release of 1 million tons of irradiated water from the site after treatment at sea, beginning in the spring of 2023.
The announcement has raised concerns among local fishermen and raised objections from neighboring China and South Korea.
Tepco plans to filter contaminated water to remove isotopes, leaving only tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to separate from water. Tepco will then dilute the water until the tritium level is less than 1/40 of the regulatory limit, before pumping into the sea.
Despite NRA approval, TEPCO, which plans to build a tunnel to reach the sea for the operation, still needs the consent of the local community, including the governor and mayor, as well as fishermen, before starting any actual construction work, a TEPCO spokesman said.
The Japanese government and TEPCO have indicated that the new facilities will be completed by mid-April next year, with the aim of starting extraction closer to the spring of 2023.
Prior to the initial approval, the NRA examined various issues, such as the effectiveness of equipment for mixing water with seawater, how to stop the release of water in case of abnormalities, and countermeasures against earthquakes and tsunamis, the official said. (Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Rashmi Aich)