TOKYO May 21 The operator of Japan's destroyed
Fukushima nuclear plant began releasing groundwater that it said
is within legal radiation safety limits into the Pacific Ocean
on Wednesday, in a bid to manage huge amounts of radioactive
water built up at the site.
Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, has been fighting a
daily battle against contaminated water since the Fukushima
nuclear station was wrecked by a massive earthquake and tsunami
in March 2011.
The controversial release, which was agreed by local
fishermen after extended talks, coincides with a breakdown of a
water treatment system for the highly contaminated water held in
It also comes amid revelations this week in the Asahi
Shimbun newspaper that the majority of workers at the plant fled
during the height of the meltdowns after the quake and tsunami
knocked out cooling and backup power.
Groundwater flows down from nearby hills and 400 tonnes
enters basements of the wrecked reactor buildings on a daily
basis, according to Tepco's estimates, mixing with highly
radioactive water used to cool reactors.
Workers then pump out the contaminated water, treat it and
store it in more than 1,000 makeshift tanks that cover the
facility grounds. The tanks that hold the most contaminated
liquids are nearly full and workers are rushing to build more
Tepco said 560 tonnes of groundwater captured and stored
before it entered the basements is to be released on Wednesday,
using a bypass system that funnels it towards the sea after
checking for radiation levels.
Using the bypass, Tepco hopes to divert on average 100
tonnes of untainted groundwater a day into the ocean.
A water treatment facility known as the Advanced Liquid
Processing System, designed to remove the most dangerous
nuclides, was completely shut down again this week. The system
has not been fully operational since it was installed nearly two
The manager of the plant has admitted the repeated leaks and
equipment malfunctions are "embarrassing."
About 90 percent of Tepco workers defied orders and left the
Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 15, 2011, after an explosion
rocked the site, the Asahi reported on Tuesday, citing
unreleased transcripts of interviews with the manager at the
time, Masao Yoshida.
Yoshida, widely viewed as a national hero for taking
decisive action in the critical days and weeks of the disaster
that prevented a more serious crisis, died of cancer last year.
Fukushima fishermen opposed plans to release groundwater for
more than two years, fearing it would case even more damage to
the reputation of produce from the region.
In March, local fisheries unions approved the plan, calling
it a "painful decision," but necessary to stem the tide of
radioactive water piling up at Fukushima. Many of them have been
out of work after a voluntary ban on fishing in the
Tepco, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and independent groups
found that radioactive elements in the released water have less
than 1 becquerels per litre of Cesium-134 and Cesium-137. All
other radioactive elements checked are also far below standards
for groundwater release.
The legal limit for releasing Cesium-134 into the ocean is
60 becquerels per litre.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Simon