TOKYO, Feb. 3 -- The Japanese government on Monday held talks with the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations with an aim to seek the association's approval for dumping groundwater from a crippled power plant in Fukushima Prefecture into the sea.
Officials from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) sought the approval from the head of the fisheries association, stating that the level of radioactive contamination in the water would be far less than the legal limit, with levels being checked before each discharge.
Hiroshi Kishi, the head of the fisheries association, heard from ministry officials how they plan to allay the fears of the local fishing community in the prefecture, who have seen their industry's reputation and sales battered by radioactive leaks and preventable accidents at the Daiichi nuclear complex, following multiple meltdowns there after an earthquake-triggered tsunami in March 2011.
Kishi told a local news conference that his association would carefully consider the ministry's proposal after a thorough review of the contents of METI's overture.
The local fishing community, as well as prefectural officials, however, have voiced concerns about the discharge plan, alongside the wider international community.
The government, on Jan. 15, green-lit a revival and restructuring plan for Tokyo Electric Power Co, (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, that will see the embattled utility receive 4 trillion yen (38.3 billion U.S. dollars) in additional state backing.
In addition TEPCO will see the sale by the end of fiscal 2016 of some of its 50.1 percent stake it holds under an agreement to assist the utility's huge compensation burden, following the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
With a fresh injection of capital, sceptics of TEPCO dumping toxic water into the Pacific Ocean, which lies adjacent to the crippled plant, believe that other methods need to be traversed before a final decision is made, in the interests of safety in the area and the potential for radioactive materials to spread to marine life if they're released into the sea.
But according to the central government here, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), TEPCO is struggling to contain massive influxes of contaminated water on a daily basis and must now weigh the risks of dumping excess radioactive water into ocean.
Noting that groundwater flowing into the complex and its reactor buildings is adding to TEPCO's struggle to store the contaminated water in makeshift storage tanks, some of which have sprung leaks causing radioactive materials to be released into the sea, Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of the IAEA's mission floated the idea of releasing radioactive water into the ocean when on a recent mission to the stricken facility in December.
"Controlled discharge is a regular practice in all the nuclear facilities in the world. And what we are trying to say here is to consider this as one of the options to contribute to a good balance of risks and to stabilize the facility for the long term," Lentijo said.
Lentijo added that TEPCO should weigh the possible damaging effects of discharging toxic water against the total risks involved in the overall decommissioning work process.
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), meanwhile, said that low-level contaminated water at the site will continue to provide one of the biggest obstacles for the decommissioning process, which also includes the use of remote-controlled cranes to remove melted fuel from pools at some of the damaged reactors where radiation levels are very high, in a potentially cataclysmic process.
Prior to the IAEA's latest mission here related to the decommissioning of the reactors, TEPCO began the perilous operation of removing more than 1,000 fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool inside the damaged No. 4 reactor building.
"You cannot keep storing the water forever. We have to make choice comparing all risks involved," Tanaka said of the current and future situation at the nuclear facility located 240 km northeast of Tokyo.