Fukushima OKs launch of work for planned releases of nuclear wastewater

The Fukushima prefectural government and two municipalities told Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) on Aug. 2 that they consent to the launch of construction work on an underwater tunnel and other facilities for the planned release into the sea of treated wastewater from the utility's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. TEPCO is set to begin work within August but local opposition to the discharge plan remains strong due to concerns over fresh reputational damage, leaving it uncertain if the start of releases planned for next spring by the national government and TEPCO will become a reality. Ahead of the notification to TEPCO, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori and the mayors of the two towns hosting the plant, Jun Yoshida of Okuma and Shiro Izawa of Futaba, conferred with TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa at the prefectural government office in Fukushima city. At the meeting, they shared their intention to approve the start of construction, saying that they had confirmed the technical safety of the planned releases presented in a report that was submitted earlier by a prefectural advisory panel on ensuring the safety of nuclear plant technologies. They then handed their respective response papers over to the TEPCO head. In responding to TEPCO's request for advance approval of the construction project, however, Uchibori emphasized that the parties concerned are "in a situation where you cannot say sufficient understanding has been obtained from prefectural residents and the nation's general public." He thus urged TEPCO to strive to forge understanding on the ocean release plan and address the issue of reputational damage, calling for "thorough safety measures based on the resolve never to generate fresh harmful rumors." Kobayakawa pledged to "make maximum efforts to deepen understanding among as many parties as possible." In giving their consent, the prefectural and municipal governments called on TEPCO to ensure implementation of their eight-point demands that had been put together by the technical advisory panel and further reduce the generation of contaminated water at the plant, among other things. The mayors demanded that decommissioning work be executed in a safe and steady manner. Uchibori also asked TEPCO to raise employees' awareness, noting that a series of troubles have occurred in the decommissioning process that continue to cause anxiety among people in the prefecture. The central government and TEPCO have stated on their ocean release policy that they "will not dispose of (contaminated water) in any manner without the understanding of the parties concerned." But it is apparent that forging such understanding has made little progress domestically, with opposition still very strong, particularly among local fishermen. TEPCO submitted a request to the prefecture and two towns last December for advance approval of its wastewater release plan. The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the plan in July, giving the nod to the plan's safety. The prefecture's technical panel has also published a report that gave approval, leaving responses from the prefectural and municipal governments in the focus of attention. TEPCO's plan calls for the discharge into the ocean of wastewater that is treated but still contains tritium after it is diluted by seawater to bring down the radioactivity to less than one-40th of the maximum level allowed by national authorities. The release is to take place at several points about a kilometer off the plant. [Prefecture's demands against TEPCO in reply to a request for advance approval] (1) Implementation of 8-point demands put together by the prefecture's technical advisory panel -- Make sure to implement the demanded measures (preparation of safety and maintenance plans that will be effective to forestall trouble, construction work that gives top priority to safety rather than a work schedule, and transmission of information in an easy-to-understand manner etc.), and submit reports on the progress of such efforts. (2) Greater commitments to decommissioning and wastewater disposal i) In order to reduce the volume of treated wastewater to be released into the sea, undertake measures to hold down the inflow of groundwater and rainwater into the plant facilities so that the amount of polluted water generated by such water inflows will be lowered further. ii) Advance technical examinations aimed at treating and disposing of secondary waste materials such as sludge and radioactive substance absorption towers, which are handled as a waste item after use. These waste materials are generated mostly in the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), a multi-nuclide removal system. Ensure progress in the efforts to transport these waste materials outside the prefecture. (Translated by Kyodo News)