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Japan to start releasing water from Fukushima, site of nuclear meltdown, into sea

Radioactive water accumulating in tanks at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will be released into the sea in two years after it is treated, Japan's government said today in a decision long delayed by safety concerns and protests.

An aerial photograph of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactors, from bottom at right, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. Source: Associated Press

Cabinet ministers endorsed the release as the best option for handling the massive amount of water that has been stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant since the massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 caused reactor meltdowns and leaks of cooling water from the damaged reactors.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., says its storage capacity will be full in the fall of 2022.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the Cabinet meeting that the government adopted the release to sea as “most realistic” and that the disposal of the water is “unavoidable in order to achieve Fukushima's recovery.”

TEPCO and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release.

Some scientists say the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown.

Under a report of the basic plan adopted by the ministers today, TEPCO will start releasing the water in about two years after building a facility under the regulatory authority’s safety requirements.