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Japan’s Kishida visits Fukushima plant before setting date to start controversial water release

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he will visit the tsunami-devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant on Sunday before setting a release date for the treated radioactive wastewater as his government continues to work on understanding the controversial plan at home and abroad. abroad. .

“The administration has reached the final stage where we need to make a decision,” Kishida told reporters in Washington on Friday after finishing his summit with US and South Korean leaders at the US presidential retreat from Camp David.

Since the government announced the release plan two years ago, it has faced strong opposition from Japanese fisheries organizations, who are concerned about further damage to their seafood’s reputation as they struggle to recover from the mishap. Groups in South Korea and China have also raised concerns, turning it into a political and diplomatic issue.

The government and the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., say the water must be removed to make room for the decommissioning of the plant and to prevent accidental spills from the tanks, as much of the water is still contaminated and needs further treatment.

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The release “cannot be delayed,” Kishida said.

Japan has received support from the International Atomic Energy Agency to improve transparency and credibility and ensure that TEPCO’s plan meets international safety standards. The government has also stepped up a campaign to promote the safety of the plan at home and through diplomatic channels.

The IAEA concluded in a final report in July that the TEPCO plan, if strictly implemented as designed, will have a negligible impact on the environment and human health, encouraging Japan to continue.

While seeking understanding from the fishing community, the government has also been working to explain the plan to South Korea to prevent the issue from hindering relationship building. Japan, South Korea and the US are working to strengthen trilateral ties in the face of rising Chinese and North Korean threats.

Kishida said outreach efforts have progressed, but he did not name a start date for water releases, which are expected to be late August. He said the decision will take into account safety preparations and measures for potential reputational damage to the fishery. According to Japanese media reports, his ministers will set the date at a meeting next week.

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“Before making a final decision, I want to check on the ground that the utmost security measures have been taken for the release and that everyone involved is committed to the project with a strong sense of responsibility,” Kishida said. .

He added that he wants to ensure that TEPCO executives are strongly committed to the decommissioning of the plant and the recovery of Fukushima.

A massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, melting three reactors and contaminating their cooling water, which has since continuously leaked into reactor basements and mixed with groundwater. The water is collected, filtered and stored in some 1,000 tanks, which will reach their capacity in early 2024.

The water is treated with a so-called Advanced Liquid Processing System, which can reduce the amounts of more than 60 selected radionuclides to government-determined levels, with the exception of tritium, which the government and TEPCO say is safe for people if it is in small amounts are consumed. amounts.

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Scientists generally agree that the environmental impact of the treated wastewater would be negligible, but some are calling for more attention to dozens of low-dose radionuclides that remain in it, citing insufficient data on their long-term effects on the environment and marine life . the water requires close examination.

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