Light Wave


Japan to Release 1 Million+ Tons of Treated Nuclear Waste Water Into Sea

By Belal Awad · August 7, 2023

In brief…

  • Japan plans to release treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, raising concerns about potential environmental harm.
  • The Japanese government and plant operator argue the water will be treated and heavily diluted.
  • China and South Korea oppose the plan.
  • South Koreans are panic buying sea salt over fears of contamination.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency says the plan meets international standards and would have a negligible impact on the environment.
Employees at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station work among underground water storage pools.  Greg Webb/IAEA

Japan is set to begin releasing treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean in the coming weeks. The controversial plan has sparked protests in Japan and internationally, with concerns over potential health risks and threats to the environment.

The Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), insist the plan to release the wastewater is safe. They said the water will be heavily diluted and treated, and samples will be tested daily. However, the move is unprecedented, and the long-term risks remain unknown.

Several nations, including China and South Korea, have voiced opposition to the water-release plan. China, which still has bans in place on imports of food and agricultural products from Fukushima and nearby regions, reportedly conducts regular radiation testing on seafood products arriving from Japan. South Koreans have been panic buying sea salt over fears of potential contamination once the wastewater starts being released.

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) final report states that the plan meets international standards and would have a negligible impact on the environment. The decision to release the wastewater comes as the tanks storing the water used to cool the damaged nuclear reactors are nearing capacity. TEPCO argues that continuing to store the water also poses a risk, particularly in the event of an earthquake.

Kyle Cleveland, a sociology professor at the Temple University in Japan, said it is a matter of trust “among a group of really bad options. Maybe the best bad option is to actually put it into the ocean. The problem is they don’t have a lot of trust and credibility on their messaging, which is that actually the levels of radiation are going to be quite small and will not have an appreciable impact on public health.”

Local fishermen fear the water release could contaminate the ocean and fish, further damaging their businesses. “When they release the wastewater, I think we won’t be able to sell our fish at the main market again. What happens to us then?” one local fisherman told PBS.

The Fukushima plant was severely damaged by the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The disaster led to the release of radioactive substances into the environment, resulting in international bans on the sale of fish from Fukushima. While some countries have lifted these restrictions in recent years, the region’s fishing industry continues to struggle.