TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's disaster reconstruction minister said Friday he is opposed to treated water from the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant being released into the sea, citing the possible repercussions for local fishermen.
Masayoshi Yoshino's remarks came shortly after a top official from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said he is ready to see the tritium-containing water dumped into the sea.
A government panel is still debating how to deal with the water stored in tanks at the plant where three nuclear reactors melted down in the days after a huge earthquake and then tsunami struck the region in 2011.
Tritium is a radioactive substance considered relatively harmless to humans. It remains in the filtered water as it is difficult to separate even after passing through a treatment process. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water is routinely released into the sea after it is diluted.
Yoshino expressed at a news conference his concerns over the potential ramifications of releasing the treated water into the sea, saying there would "certainly be (perception) damage due to unfounded rumors."
The minister urged those pushing for the release of the water "not to create fresh concerns for fishermen and those running fishing operations in Fukushima Prefecture." He also asked them "not to drive (fishermen) further towards the edge."
He was alluding to concerns among local fishermen about the effects on their livelihood if the public perceives fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima to be contaminated.
Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said in a recent interview that the decision to discharge the treated water "has already been made."
After Kawamura's remarks were widely reported, the utility was forced to make a clarification through a statement on Friday. Tepco said its chairman meant to say there is "no problem (with releasing water containing tritium) according to state guidelines based on scientific and technological standpoints," and that the decision to release is not yet final.
While the plant operator and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry want to discharge the water, the local fishermen, backed by the minister, are opposed to it.
At the Fukushima plant, water becomes toxic when it is used to cool the damaged reactors. It is treated through a process said to be capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive material, except tritium.
Yoshino said Friday that while he is aware of some scientists' opinion that the water should be released after it is diluted to permissible levels, he is not in favor of the idea.
"As I am also a native of Fukushima Prefecture, I fully understand the sentiment of the people," Yoshino said. However, the minister has no authority to decide how the treated water will be disposed.
An ever-increasing amount of water containing tritium is collecting in tanks at the Fukushima plant. As of July 6, approximately 777,000 tons were stored in about 580 tanks.
On March 11, 2011, water inundated the six-reactor plant, located on ground 10 meters above sea level, and flooded power supply facilities. Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.