By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press
“We cannot put off our decision forever without making a plan,” Suga told a parliamentary session Wednesday, saying the plant is running out of storage space. “Based on discussions and expertise we’ve had, we will further deepen our discussion and responsibly make a decision at an appropriate time.”
A government panel in February issued a report recommending releasing the water into the ocean as the most realistic plan. The government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, say all radioactive materials but tritium can be safely removed, and that tritium is largely harmless.
The plant now has more than 1.2 million tons of the water stored in 1,000 huge tanks that occupy a large amount of space at the plant. TEPCO says that it will run out of space in the summer of 2022 and that the tanks hamper the decommissioning process.
Suga did not give a timeline, though a decision is expected in weeks, if not months. An actual release would be about two years away because TEPCO still has to set up a facility for a release and have it authorized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, officials said. A controlled release of the water will take decades.
Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman Toyoshi Fuketa recently said that tritium below allowable limits is routinely released from nuclear plants around the world. He said he is not concerned about safety, but understands psychological and reputational concerns about the water associated with the Fukushima disaster. He said careful monitoring of the water samples is crucial to gain public understanding.
But some scientists say the long-term environmental impact from radioactive water is unknown and could pose higher risks than explained. Ken Buesseler, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in a recent article that not only tritium but how other isotopes affect marine life should be carefully examined.