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Japan Wants to Dump Nuclear Plant’s Tainted Water. Fishermen Fear the Worst via The New York Times

The water from the Fukushima disaster is more radioactive than the authorities have previously publicized, raising doubts about government assurances that it will be made safe.

By Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet and the Tokyo Electric Power Company — the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where a triple meltdown led to the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl — must decide what to do with more than one million tons of contaminated water stored in about 1,000 giant tanks on the plant site.

On Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed gradually releasing the water into the ocean or allowing it to evaporate, saying a controlled discharge into the sea would “stably dilute and disperse” it. The ministry ruled out alternatives to releasing the water like continuing to store it in tanks or injecting it deep into the ground.

The water gets pumped through the reactors to cool melted fuel that is still too hot and radioactive to remove. For years, the power company, known as Tepco, said that treatment of the water — which involves sending it through a powerful filtration system to remove most radioactive material — was making it safe to release. 

But it is actually more radioactive than the authorities have previously publicized. Officials say that it will be treated again, and that it will then be safe for release.

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With Fukushima preparing to host baseball games during the Summer Olympics next year, and the plant running out of land on which to build storage tanks, the debate has taken on a sense of urgency.

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But last summer, the power company acknowledged that only about a fifth of the stored water had been effectively treated.

Last month, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry briefedreporters and diplomats about the water stored in Fukushima.

More than three-quarters of it, the ministry said, still contains radioactive material other than tritium — and at higher levels than the government considers safe for human health.

The authorities say that in the early years of processing the deluge of water flowing through the reactors, Tepco did not change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough. The company said it would re-treat the water to filter out the bulk of the nuclear particles, making it safe to release into the ocean.

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“As long as the water was stored in the tanks, we thought it didn’t matter whether the water” exceeded safety standards for discharge, said Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager in the Fukushima Daiichi decontamination and decommissioning office.

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The question of whether the water could be decontaminated to safe levels is a matter of degree, scientists say.

If the water is processed so that the only radioactive materials that remain are low levels of tritium, said Kazuya Idemitsu, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University, releasing it into the ocean would be “the best solution in terms of cost and safety.”

Mr. Idemitsu added that functioning nuclear plants around the world release diluted water containing tritium into the ocean.

Some scientists said they would need proof before believing that the Fukushima water was treated to safe levels.

Read more at Japan Wants to Dump Nuclear Plant’s Tainted Water. Fishermen Fear the Worst

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