TOKYO (AP) — A South Korean team of government experts has begun a two-day tour at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant Tuesday to have a firsthand look of a controversial Japanese plan to release into sea treated by slightly radioactive wastewater.
Officials from the Japanese government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, were to escort the 21-member delegation to see several facilities related to treatment, safety checks, transport and dilution of the water, Japanese officials said Tuesday.
The plan has faced fierce protests from local fishing communities concerned about safety and reputational damage. Neighboring countries, including South Korea, China and the Pacific Island nations, have also raised safety concerns.
The treated water discharge plan was particularly a sensitive issue between Tokyo and Seoul, which are now working to repair long-strained bilateral ties to address bigger challenges such as security threats of China and North Korea.
“We plan to provide thorough explanation to the South Korean experts as we show them the latest status of the tanks and construction at the plant,” said Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. “I expect this will deepen understanding in South Korea about the safety of our planned release" of the treated water.
Only the water treated to legally releasable levels and further diluted with large amounts of seawater would be released into sea about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) offshore in the Pacific through an undersea tunnel, and safety procedures and a controlled release over decades will make it harmless to people and marine life, Japanese officials say.
Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to tritium and other radionuclides is unknown and the release should be delayed.
Historical disputes have strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul — most recently over the compensation of wartime Korean forced laborers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. But their relationship has thawed rapidly since March, when South Korea’s government announced a local fund to compensate some of the former laborers. Tokyo and Seoul, under pressure from Washington, share a sense of urgency to mend ties amid growing security threats in the region.
Nishimura said the government and TEPCO plan to start releasing the treated water after compulsory safety checks by the Japanese nuclear regulators and the final review report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
A massive earthquake and tsunami on March, 11, 2011, destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi plant's cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt, releasing large amounts of radiation. Water used to cool the cores has accumulated in about 1,000 tanks at the plant, which will reach capacity in early 2024.
Japanese officials say the water stored in those tanks need to be removed to prevent accidental leaks in case of another disaster and to make progress on the plant’s decommissioning.