Construction of facilities to discharge treated water from the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture into the sea will commence Thursday, according to the plant operator, even as opposition at home and abroad remains.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said at a press conference Wednesday it still aims to begin releasing the treated water containing tritium about 1 kilometer off the Pacific coast around next spring after diluting it with seawater to one-40th of the maximum concentration permitted under Japanese regulations.
But the plan could be delayed until next summer due to the tight schedule.
Initially, TEPCO had planned to start constructing the facilities in June but it was only approved in July by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
The tanks storing treated water on the premises of the Fukushima Daiichi plant are expected to reach full capacity around next fall, according to TEPCO's calculation.
Construction will start after approval was given earlier in the week by the Fukushima prefectural government and two municipalities hosting the seaside power plant, severely damaged after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused core meltdowns at multiple nuclear reactors.
Water that has become contaminated after being pumped in to keep the melted fuel cool has been accumulating at the complex, also mixing with rainwater and groundwater at the site.
TEPCO and the government still face a tall task to persuade fishing communities in Japan and neighboring China, who continue to oppose the release of the treated water on safety grounds.
"It is important for us to make the best effort to clear various concerns and anxiety over the discharge plan," a TEPCO official said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated her country's opposition to Japan's plan, calling it "irresponsible" and saying it takes no heed of concerned countries.
The South Korean government has also been expressing concern following the approval by the NRA, it said it will seek responsible handling of the situation by Japan under the principle that people's health and safety are of the highest priority.
Taiwan's nuclear energy council said it respects Japan's decision as it believes the nuclear regulator made the decision on a legal basis and using its expertise.
Local government chiefs from the prefecture on Wednesday also called on the central government to take measures to prevent reputational damage to marine products, a key issue that severely impacted local businesses in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The mayors of Okuma and Futaba, the two towns hosting the Fukushima plant, and Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori made the request during a meeting with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda in Tokyo.
"The plan has not earned enough understanding from Japanese people and residents of the prefecture, as there are still various opinions including concerns over renewed reputational damage," Uchibori said at the meeting, which was partially open to the media.
Okuma Mayor Jun Yoshida also urged the government to lead from the front, saying, "We hope people in the disaster-stricken area will no longer suffer from reputational damage."
Hagiuda responded that the plan will be carried out on the premise of ensuring safety and taking thorough measures to prevent reputational damage, adding, "We will deliver information based on scientific evidence throughout the country and abroad."
For the fisheries industry that faces the risk of damage caused by harmful rumors, it is important to create an environment where their products are traded at fair prices so young people can continue to operate businesses without worries, the local leaders' request said.