Japan's quake-hit nuclear plant scraps plan to dump water into sea

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s utility operating the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Friday it has scrapped a plan to dump water it treated for radiation contamination into the sea following fierce protests from fishing groups.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) Co.'s tsunami crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Fukushima prefecture September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the utility operating Fukushima’s Daiichi plant, had said on Thursday it was considering discharging some treated water into the sea because it was running out of storage space.

That caused an uproar among Japanese fishing cooperatives.

“Treated” means once-high radioactive content has been reduced considerably, but not completely.

The Fukushima plant was struck by a devastating quake and tsunami in March and has released radiation into the atmosphere, carried by winds, rain and snow, ever since.

“The decision not to include the plan was made after talks on Thursday with the federation of fishing cooperatives and opposition from the government’s Fisheries Agency,” a Tepco spokeswoman said.

Tepco general manager Junichi Matsumoto told reporters on Friday that the company would try to build more tanks and recycle more of the treated water for cooling purposes.

Worries over the safety of food, water and air have been dogging the Japanese public since the March disaster and cases of excessive radiation in vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water have stoked anxiety despite officials’ assurances that the levels were not dangerous.

In another effort to allay such concerns, Japan’s health minister on Friday announced that the ministry will carry out regular checks of baby food after dairy firm Meiji earlier this week found radioactive cesium in its baby formula.

Kyodo quoted minister Yoko Komiyama as saying the tests would be conducted at least every three months.

Tens of thousands of tons of water contaminated with radiation have accumulated at the plant, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, after Tepco, early in the crisis, tried to cool reactors that suffered nuclear fuel meltdowns by pouring in water, much of it from the sea.

Tepco estimates that the amount of treated water requiring storage is increasing by 200 to 500 tons every day. It says the plant is likely to reach its storage capacity of about 155,000 tons around March.

The utility released more than 10,000 tons of water tainted with low levels of radiation in April to free up space for water with much higher levels of radioactivity, drawing sharp criticism from neighbors such as South Korea and China.

Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Nick Macfie and Tomasz Janowski