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Editorial: Japan's decision to release Fukushima plant water into sea leaves many doubtful

The Japanese government has decided on a plan to release treated radioactive water from the grounds of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean, overriding objections from those involved in the local fishing industry and others.

    In the No. 1 to No. 3 nuclear reactor buildings at the power plant, radioactive water has continued to be generated through melted nuclear fuel coming in contact with groundwater. According to one estimate, in two years, the volume of such radioactive water is expected to exceed the amount that can be held in tanks at the power plant.

    The government has stressed that the decision to release treated water into the ocean was the result of deliberations among experts for over six years.

    But in 2015, the minister of the economy, trade and industry at the time promised that the "release of (treated radioactive water) into the ocean will not be carried out without the understanding of those involved." The latest decision was made without the government making sufficient effort to earn that understanding.

    The government and TEPCO have repeatedly made moves that lack consideration for local communities. The people of Fukushima have grown increasingly distrustful of the two.

    And still the government is trying to unilaterally push through with the logic that "there will no longer be enough storage space" -- an approach from which we sense no sincerity.

    TEPCO, which will actually be conducting the release of treated radioactive water, has been scandal-ridden; it has released highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean and abandoned broken seismometers, among other things. It was recently brought to light that the company's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in the northwestern Japan prefecture of Niigata lacked sufficient anti-terrorism measures. TEPCO's abilities as a power plant operator are being brought into question.

    The claim is being made by TEPCO that if treated water continues to be stored on the grounds of the power plant, it will interfere with decommissioning efforts. But the company is not very convincing as it is unable to indicate what the specific prospects are for the decommissioning process, with great challenges that lie ahead such as the retrieval of burnt nuclear fuel.

    The government and TEPCO have explained that the radioactive substances in the water will be reduced to levels below permitted standards before it is released into the ocean. The plan with tritium, which water treatment processes cannot eliminate, is also to dilute it to levels below permitted standards.

    Tritium releases weak radiation, but it is said that negative effects to human health can be avoided if it fulfills certain criteria when ingested. However, the Japanese public's understanding cannot be gained simply by presenting such scientific logic. Furthermore, it will not be easy to appease the concerns of nearby countries such as China and South Korea.

    The Japanese government announced that upon deciding the release of treated radioactive water into the Pacific, it will beef up measures against reputational damage caused by unwarranted fears. But what is most important is to not generate such fears in the first place. Some are suspicious about whether the government exhausted discussions on alternatives to releasing the treated radioactive water into the ocean.

    The Japanese government has said it will be about two years before the treated water will be released into the ocean. The state and TEPCO must first make efforts to regain trust. To go through with the plan without it is inexcusable.

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