Wrecked Fukushima Nuclear Plant One Step Closer to Releasing Radioactive Water Into Pacific

The operator of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant is one step closer to releasing treated radioactive water into the Pacific ocean after applying for approval Tuesday to create a tunnel to the Pacific ocean to dispose of the water safely.

The nuclear power plant was severely damaged in 2011 after a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami that caused contamination of their cooling water, which then began leaking. The 1,000 tanks storing the contaminated water will reach capacity next year, the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), said.

TEPCO plans to create the sea tunnel so they can release a massive amount of treated radioactive water into the ocean. The Nuclear Regulation Authority needs to approve the plan, including the tunnel's design, equipment needed to dilute the water and other materials.

The contaminated water will be treated with seawater to reduce the levels of radioactive material to reach a safe level that won't harm the environment. The water will be released about half a mile from the plant and about 40 feet below the ocean's surface, according to TEPCO's plan.

TEPCO wants to start construction in June so they can begin to release the radioactive water by April 2023.

Protest, Fukushima Water Release, Ocean
A protestor holds a slogan during a rally against the Japanese government's decision to release treated water from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the sea, outside of the prime minister's office in Tokyo on April 13, 2021. Yuki Iwamura/ AFP/Getty Images

The contaminated water is to be diluted to reduce the concentration of radioactive materials below allowable limits.

About 1,000 storage tanks filled with the radioactive water need to be removed to make room for facilities necessary for the plant's decommissioning, TEPCO says.

Increasing amounts of radioactive water have been stored at the plant. The plant says the storage tanks currently hold about 1.29 million tons of water and will reach their capacity of 1.37 million tons by early 2023.

An official in charge of the water discharge project, Junichi Matsumoto, said TEPCO will construct the undersea tunnel by drilling through bedrock in the seabed.

The government in April approved the decision to start discharging the water into the Pacific Ocean under safety standards set by regulators, calling it the most realistic option. The idea has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and neighboring countries including China and South Korea.

Japan has requested assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the discharge meets international safety standards and to gain the understanding of the international community.

The release, with an annual cap on radioactive materials, will continue for about 30 years, or until the plant's decommissioning ends, TEPCO has said.

Government and TEPCO officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other isotopes selected for treatment can be reduced to safe levels before release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
The operator of a wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said on December 21, 2021, it has applied for safety authorities' approval to construct an undersea tunnel and other facility needed for a planned release of treated radioactive water from the plant to sea. Above, this Feb. 13, 2021, aerial file photo shows Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo. Kyodo News/AP Photo