17 municipal assemblies in Fukushima view gov't response to polluted water disposal as "inadequate"

25 June 2020

Amid controversy over how to dispose of growing stores of treated but tritium-contaminated radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 17 out of 59 municipal assemblies in Fukushima Prefecture have passed statements or resolutions so far this year, branding the central government's disposal policy as insufficient. They also oppose the proposed release of treated water into the sea and have called for stronger measures to address reputational damage stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. plant. The series of municipal assembly moves reflect their increasingly clear stance seeking to have the views of local residents reflected in the government’s final policymaking process.

Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake local daily, conducted a survey on attitudes about the disposal of polluted water from June 18 to 24, covering all 59 municipal assemblies in the prefecture. The current status of statements or resolutions adopted or pending on the disposal policy is listed at the end of this article.

Of the local legislatures, 17 city, town and village assemblies have passed such documents. The assembly in the town of Namie passed a resolution against the ocean release plan while those in the village of Nishigo and the town of Miharu specified their objection to the proposed release into the air or sea. Many municipalities have called for the contaminated wastewater to be stored long-term in tanks as well as improved and tougher measures to counter harmful misinformation.

In reply to the questionnaire, the cities of Minamisoma and Date said their assemblies will continue debating petitions from local residents seeking submission of opinions while those of 11 other municipalities are "scheduled to deliberate from now on" over statements and other documents. A total of 30 municipal assemblies, including the 17 which have already acted, constituting more than a majority, are set to make their stance clear on the issue.

A government subcommittee comprising experts and other members, tasked with discussing ways of treating contaminated water, recommended in February that vaporization into the air and release into the ocean are "realistic choices" and that the latter choice "can be executed with greater certainty" from technical aspects, including the establishment of a surveillance system. In response, municipal assemblies in Fukushima approved statements or resolutions on the wastewater treatment policy one after another at their regular sessions in March and June.

The utility has estimated that the capacity of tanks storing treated water in the compounds of the stricken plant will reach its limit around the summer of 2022. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has pointed out that about two years will be required to prepare for the release of contaminated water. Given these factors, this summer is increasingly being viewed as a deadline for a policy decision if the proposed release in 2022 is to go ahead. Cabinet ministers concerned have reiterated that "no postponement is possible."

In making its recommendations, the subcommittee urged the government to make its final decision conditional on "listening carefully to opinions from a broad array of people concerned." The government, which held its fourth hearing in Tokyo on June 30, is also soliciting comments from the general public until July 15.

A government official involved in the policymaking process said the statements and resolutions by Fukushima's municipal assemblies are "valuable," adding that the government would like to use them as a reference in making a policy decision after scrutinizing their contents. But the government has not yet made known how it will reflect such opinions in its final decision, attracting attention to its future response.

◇Municipal assemblies that have passed so far this year statements or resolutions regarding the disposal of wastewater containing tritium: Aizuwakamatsu, Iwaki, Kitakata, Soma, Nihonmatsu, Koori, Kawamata, Minamiaizu, Aizubange, Yugawa, Kaneyama, Nishigo, Ishikawa, Miharu, Namie, Shinchi, Iitate (17 cities, towns and villages)

◇Under deliberation: Minamisoma, Date (2 cities)

◇Set to deliberate: Koriyama, Otama, Kagamiishi, Nishiaizu, Showa, Nakajima, Samegawa, Tamakawa, Hirata, Furudono, Ono (11 cities, towns and villages)

(Translated by Kyodo News)