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Japan approves release of Fukushima plant water into sea

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Japan on Tuesday finalized a decision to discharge wastewater from the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea as the accumulation of on-site storage tanks threatens to interfere with decommissioning efforts.

Cabinet members and other officials from relevant agencies gave the plan the go-ahead in a meeting at the prime minister’s office. The move drew swift rebukes from neighbors South Korea and China, while the U.S. voiced support for the solution.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, “We have no choice but to take on the wastewater issue, as we need to proceed with decommissioning of the nuclear reactors.” He added that the government will do all it can to ensure the safety of the treated water and to avoid possible reputational damage from the release.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings will be encouraged to start releasing the water in about two years under the basic guidelines approved at the meeting.

Water will be discharged only after the Nuclear Regulation Authority gives the green light. The government will also bolster efforts to monitor the quality of seawater and prevent reputational damage in the surrounding areas.

Fukushima Daiichi suffered core meltdowns from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that hit eastern Japan in March 2011. Cooling the plant’s reactors to prevent further damage produces large amounts of heavily contaminated wastewater.

Though Tepco removes key radioactive contaminants before storing the water in tanks, the process cannot remove tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen. More than 1,000 tanks now hold still-tainted wastewater at Fukushima Daiichi, and removal is considered a key step toward fully decommissioning the idled plant.