Gov't set to decide treatment of polluted water from nuke plant soon

The government has embarked on the final stage of coordination to determine how to dispose of swelling amounts of water treated but still containing tritium, a radioactive substance, at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crippled by the 2011 accident. As part of the move, the government held a seventh hearing on the issue in Tokyo on Oct. 8, where the national fishery industry and Fukushima Prefecture's association of seafood-processing cooperatives reiterated their opposition to the release of contaminated water into the sea, saying it would cause serious effects on fisheries and other aspects. The gathering marked the end of hearings from most main parties concerned, according to government officials. A final decision is expected soon after talks among related ministries and agencies. A senior government official who chaired the series of seven hearings since April said, "We had a total of 43 participants from 29 organizations in the hearings, including the latest session, such as Fukushima Prefecture and other local municipalities, agricultural, forestry and fisheries groups, fishing operators, and economic organizations." The remark was made after the seventh session by Kiyoshi Ejima, state minister of economy, trade and industry and head of the Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima. "We have to make a decision as the government as soon as possible," Ejima said, suggesting an early decision on wastewater treatment. The latest hearing was the last session before decision-making, government officials said. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said during his visit to the prefecture on Sept. 25 that it is "necessary to hastily decide a treatment policy" but that "there remain parties concerned from whom we would like to seek opinions," indicating the government's intention of listening to the views of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (Zengyoren). The government has repeatedly requested the federation to participate in the hearings because it would be an important interested party in the event of polluted water being dumped into the ocean. With Zengyoren's participation, the government is believed to have finished hearings from key parties concerned, a precondition for decision-making on the handling of wastewater. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said during his visit to rows of wastewater-containing tanks at the plant on Sept. 26 that his government "will responsibly decide on the handling of treated water as soon as possible," stressing the intention of his own administration to make a decision. TEPCO estimates that all wastewater-containing tanks on the premises of the plant will become full around the summer of 2022. If wastewater is to be discharged into the sea, it is said to take about two years to prepare for the release, which has strengthened the view that, if calculated from the preparatory time, the deadline for the government's decision-making will be this summer to autumn. In Fukushima Prefecture, strong concern is prevalent that reputational damage stemming from the nuclear disaster could gain momentum should wastewater be treated within the prefecture alone or should disposal start from the prefecture. The proposed release into the sea "is sure to bring about harmful rumors," said Zengyoren leader Hiroshi Kishi, who attended the latest hearing. "It could have a catastrophic impact on the future of our country's fisheries," he said with a stern look. "We are resolutely against it as a consensus of fishery operators." Zengyoren unanimously approved a special resolution at its general meeting in June calling for "absolute objection" to the release of treated water into the ocean. If contaminated water were to be discharged into the sea, "efforts by fishery operators (against the reputational damage) would go up in smoke," the federation said. "There is concern that foreign countries might tighten import curbs again," it added, urging the government to make a decision in a discreet manner. Toshifumi Ono, representing the Fukushima association of seafood-processing cooperatives, which comprises brokers and other fishery market participants in the prefecture, joined the hearing online. The group "is absolutely opposed to the release into the ocean," Ono said. "If the water is poured into the ocean, harmful rumors will be rekindled. Let us do business in the conventional fashion. We wish the government to build such an environment as quickly as possible." (Translated by Kyodo News)