Japan's Bid to Dump Tons of Radioactive Water From Fukushima Into Sea Hits Snag

Japan Fukushima Radioactive Water Pacific Ocean Dump
Japanese officials reportedly doubt that millions of tons of radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima power plant will be dumped into the Pacific Ocean starting in spring 2023 as planned. Protesters of the water dump, including one wearing a mask of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, are pictured in Seoul, South Korea, on January 6, 2022. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty

Japan's controversial plan to dump a large amount of radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean could be forced into a delay due to a series of recent roadblocks.

Japanese officials doubt that millions of tons of the contaminated water will begin to be dumped into the ocean as planned in spring 2023, according to a Monday report from The Asahi Shimbun. The digging of special ditches intended to hold the water just before it is released into the ocean began this month. However, the digging of a critical undersea tunnel, which was also expected to start this month, has been delayed until June.

The water has been treated to remove most contaminants before being stored in 1,061 holding tanks. Environmental concerns about the project have remained significant since the treatment process cannot filter out the radioactive hydrogen isotope tritium, a contaminant that experts say could be harmful in large amounts.

The effort to get rid of the water is an essential precursor to the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which experienced a triple meltdown in 2011 following a tsunami triggered by a massive Pacific Ocean earthquake.

Despite opposition from environmentalists, the fishing industry, local residents and neighboring countries, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida insisted that the water dumping plan "should not be pushed back" after touring the damaged power plant last October.

The amount of contaminated water at the plant continues to increase due to rainwater and groundwater entering the facilities and mixing with radioactive cooling water. Last year, an average of 150 tons of new contaminated water accumulated each day. Storage tanks were reportedly at 94 percent capacity as of January 20.

The plan could also be postponed due to the delay of a planned inspection by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Japanese government has invited the agency's researchers to determine the safety of the treated water.

A visit from the researchers that had been expected to take place in December was canceled due to the recent Omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19. The Japanese government is reportedly in negotiations to reschedule the inspection for spring but no new date has been announced.

The water is expected to be released into the ocean gradually, with the entire process taking decades to complete. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, has argued that the environmental impact will be minimal due to contaminated water being treated and heavily diluted in seawater. A simulation that the company released in November found that radiation levels would temporarily increase in the ocean before quickly returning to normal levels.

Safety assurances from the power company and the Japanese government have done little to change the opinions of people opposed to the water dump. Those in the fishing industry have been particularly outspoken in opposing the plan, since any contamination of the waters they fish could be disastrous to their livelihoods in addition to the environment.

"If you insist on the safety of treated water, why don't you spray it in your garden or dump it in a river flowing into Tokyo Bay?" local fisherman Toru Takahashi told officials during a recent government question-and-answer session, according to The Asahi Shimbun. "I will never ever drop my opposition."

Newsweek reached out to the office of Kishida for comment.