Transparency is ‘very important’: IAEA chief tells Japan during visit to examine Fukushima wastewater release

The head of the U.N. atomic agency has emphasized to Japan’s government the importance of transparency in its ongoing discharges of treated radioactive wastewater at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

March 13, 2024 10:58 am | Updated 10:59 am IST - TOKYO

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a meeting with local officials and representatives from fishing and business groups in Iwaki, northeast of Tokyo, Wednesday, March 13, 2024.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a meeting with local officials and representatives from fishing and business groups in Iwaki, northeast of Tokyo, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

The head of the U.N. atomic agency on March 12 emphasised to Japan's government the importance of transparency in its ongoing discharges of treated radioactive wastewater at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi also expressed support for increasing Japan's nuclear capacity as the country looks to it as a stable, clean source of power.

Mr. Grossi is in Japan for the first time since releases of the treated water began in August. His visit comes one day after Japan marked 13 years since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima disaster.

Also read: Explained | The Fukushima N-wastewater controversy

The 2011 disaster damaged the Fukushima plant's power supply and reactor cooling functions, triggering triple meltdowns and causing large amounts of radioactive wastewater to accumulate. After more than a decade of cleanup work, the plant began discharging the water after treating it and diluting it with large amounts of seawater on August 24, starting a process that's expected to take decades.

The discharges have been opposed by fishing groups and neighbouring countries including China, which banned all imports of Japanese seafood immediately after the release began. Japan has sought the IAEA's help with safety monitoring and evaluation to allay concerns.

IAEA offers technical assistance to restart power plant

Mr. Grossi will examine the discharge and sampling facility on March 13 after meeting with the local residents. He last visited the plant in July after issuing an IAEA review predicting only negligible impact from the discharges. The IAEA comprehensive report later concluded that the discharges have satisfied international safety standards.

It is “very important to show the transparency of this process,” Mr. Grossi told Economy and Industry Minister Ken Saito.

He also offered Japan technical assistance to improve the idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Japan's northcentral region of Niigata, which is run by the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It and the government are keen to restart it soon.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant's No. 6 and No. 7 reactors had passed regulators' safety tests for a restart, but they were suspended from making further preparations after safeguarding problems surfaced in 2021. Those lasted until December, when the regulators acknowledged improvement.

IAEA is sending a team of experts to the plant later this month to assist Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings' effort to gain public trust. “We want to be of assistance in helping Japan's nuclear capacity to be up and running as soon as possible,” Mr. Grossi told Mr. Saito.

The restart remains uncertain because it is subject to host community's consent. The Jan. 1 earthquake in the nearby Noto region rekindled safety concerns and prompted nuclear regulators to order a review of evacuation plans around nuclear facilities nationwide.

Japan’s renewd push for nuclear energy

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has reversed earlier plans for a nuclear phaseout and is accelerating the use of nuclear power in response to rising fuel costs related to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and pressure to meet decarbonisation goals.

Mr. Grossi will meet with Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa on March 14 and is expected to discuss cooperation in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, North Korea and Iran and the peaceful use of atomic energy. Japan also wants to provide financial support for the IAEA's effort to protect Ukrainian nuclear plants from Russia's war, officials said.

Earlier on March 12, Mr. Grossi in his meeting with Environment Minister Shintaro Ito pledged the IAEA's cooperation in the disposal of radioactive soil that came out of decontamination across Fukushima. The soil has been in an interim storage facility in Fukushima. A government plan to recycle it for road construction and other public works after safety tests has met fierce protests. The government has promised a final disposal plan outside of the prefecture by 2045.

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