A team of nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency urged Japan this week to reach a decision quickly on what to do with treated water that contains low toxicity radioactive tritium, which is accumulating at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
“We advised the Japanese government that … (a) decision should be taken very rapidly for the disposition path for water which is stored in these tanks,” said Christophe Xerri, leader of the 13-member team, on Tuesday following a nine-day review of progress on scrapping the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The facility was damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“There is space limitation, so some solution has to be decided and implemented,” Xerri said, adding that the volume of treated water containing tritium in tanks is expected to reach the planned capacity within the “coming three to four years.”
As of last Thursday around 970,000 tons of tritium-containing water was stored on the premises of the plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
The government has studied options for the tritium-containing water, including releasing it into the sea, as it is regarded as not harmful to humans.
The tainted water has been stored in tanks after being produced as a byproduct of cooling the plant’s reactors, which suffered core meltdowns following the 2011 disaster.
But local fishermen and residents have expressed concern about discharging the water, fearing the potential impact on food.
“Controlled discharge to the sea is something which is applied in many nuclear facilities, so it’s not something which is new,” Xerri said.
“Our review was not to advise the Japanese government on one solution or another one,” he added.
“It is up to the Japanese government to decide — in engaging with stakeholders, of course — on the option Japan wants to implement,” he said.
Toyoshi Fuketa, who heads the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has described discharging the water into the sea as the “only” solution.
Tepco has been running the Advanced Liquid Processing System, said to be capable of removing almost all radioactive materials from the toxic water except tritium.
It was the fourth such review conducted by a team of experts from the Vienna-based agency, following two in 2013 and one in 2015.
The IAEA will issue its final report by the end of January 2019.
Xerri said his team was impressed by the progress that has been made at the plant since the previous review, including the full operation of a frozen soil wall around the reactors that has reduced the volume of groundwater that enters the reactor buildings.
But he acknowledged many challenges in the decommissioning process, which is set to take “30 to 40 years or even more,” including the removal of melted fuel from the reactors — seen as the hardest part.
When asked about the possibility of discarding the fuel — the location and volume of which remaining within the reactors is yet to be grasped due to high levels of radiation — Xerri said, “We don’t have enough information to tell you yes or no.”