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Japan will release water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant starting August 24

TOKYO – Japan will begin dumping treated radioactive water from the shut down Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean as early as Thursday, despite stiff opposition from neighboring countries and Japan's fishing industry.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that the discharge of more than a million tons of sewage – the equivalent of more than 500 Olympic swimming pools – will be done safely.

“We expect that the discharge will start on August 24 if the weather and sea conditions do not hinder it,” Kishida said after a cabinet meeting in Tokyo, urging the power plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, to focus on the to prepare for discharge.

After a two-year review, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded last month that Japan's plan meets international safety standards and would have “negligible” radiological impacts on humans and the environment.

“The government is committed to taking full responsibility until the disposal of treated water is complete, even if it will take decades to complete,” Kishida said Tuesday.

Filtered to remove radioactive elements and heavily diluted to lower tritium concentrations, the water will be discharged into the Pacific Ocean in a process expected to take more than 30 years. The concentration of tritium, a radioactive material that is very difficult to separate from water, will drop to below sea level after dilution, Japanese authorities say.

What you should know before Japan releases water from Fukushima nuclear power plant

For years, the contaminated water was stored in large metal tanks near the power plant, where one of the worst nuclear disasters in history happened. But Japan has run out of space to build more tanks to catch the contaminated groundwater and rainwater that is still leaking from the site.

Starting Thursday, the treated water will be discharged through an underwater tunnel off the coast of Japan at a maximum rate of 132,000 gallons per day. External observers, including the IAEA, will continue to monitor the approval process.

That's what the IAEA said Tuesday that it will maintain “its impartial, independent and objective safety review during the unloading phase”. The agency, which has an office at the plant, said it will continue to assess relevant activities and release independent data.

Despite these assurances, environmental groups questioned the safety of releasing the contaminated water and urged Tokyo to abandon the plan.

“Instead of having an honest debate about this reality, the Japanese government has opted for the wrong solution – decades of deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment – at a time when the world's oceans are already facing tremendous stress and pressure,” Shaun said Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist Greenpeace East Asia.

The forthcoming relief has been heavily politicized by neighboring countries. China has strongly opposed the release, which comes at a time of rising geopolitical tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

“China has pointed out on many occasions that dumping into the sea is not the safest or most prudent way to dispose of nuclear-contaminated water. “Japan simply chose to do so to reduce economic costs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday. “This poses unnecessary risks to neighboring countries and the rest of the world,” he said, urging Japan to call off the plan.

The plan has also sparked debate in South Korea, which has banned imports of seafood from the Fukushima region, although South Korea's own assessment of the water release plan has also found it meets international standards.

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A senior South Korean government official said Tuesday Seoul doesn't necessarily support Japan's sewage plan but sees “no scientific or technical problems.”

“If the actual discharge deviates even slightly from the plan, we will consider it a threat to the safety and health of our people and immediately request Japan to stop it,” said Park Gu-yeon, deputy minister for government policy coordination.

However, opposition politicians have raised concerns that South Korean waters could be affected by the release and accused President Yoon Suk Yeol of neglecting the health risks to improve diplomatic relations with Tokyo.

“The Yoon government is turning a blind eye to Japan dumping nuclear-contaminated water into the sea,” said Kang Sun-woo, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Democratic Party.

The fishing and agricultural industries in Fukushima also fear possible reputational damage for their products, which still carry the stigma of radioactive contamination.

“Our position has not changed and we remain opposed,” Masanobu Sakamoto, chairman of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, said Monday after meeting Kishida.

“Our understanding of treated water safety has deepened, but scientific safety and social safety are different. Once the water is released, there will be reputational damage,” he said.

The fishing season in Fukushima is scheduled to start on September 1, and the Japanese government has pledged to monitor water quality and collect data every day after the release.

About 230 people gathered outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Tuesday to protest the plan. They held signs and shouted slogans like “Listen to the fishermen” and “The release will impact future generations.”

according to a current Kyodo survey88.1 percent of those surveyed expressed concerns that the release will damage Japan's image abroad. The government will provide $200 million to compensate the fishing industry for any reputational damage and $340 million to mitigate the impact on the local economy.

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