Water from Fukushima nuclear power plant will be released soon via a tunnel, which will take it well out to sea to avoid interfering with local fishing.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was heavily damaged during the 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan, has now been a dilemma for over a decade. The plant’s three damaged reactors have had several meltdowns, contaminating their cooling water. Radioactive water from Fukushima is currently stored in over 1,000 tanks at the plant. Those tanks will reach their capacity in late 2022, forcing the need for a way to dispose of the irradiated water.

In April 2021, the Japanese government decided that they would treat and dilute the waste water and then release it in the spring of 2023 in to the Pacific Ocean. This immediately met with fierce protest from many, including fishermen and residents in Japan, China, and South Korea.

The compromise to mollify everyone is a tunnel. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), which operates the plant, announced on August 25, 2021, that it hopes to drill and build an undersea tunnel to allow the water to be discharged at the bottom, over a kilometer away from the plant and over 40 feet below the surface. The combination of tunnel and pipeline will help prevent accidental release of the contaminated water at the surface in case of another earthquake.

Japan has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency to determine how best to release the wastewater. With treatment and dilution, the water released would be safe to release at the surface, with an annual cap TEPCO must remain under that will take 30 years to drain the tanks. The tunnel is to assuage layman fears about the irradiated water.

The water must be released to continue with plans to decommission the plant, which is expected to take several decades. The tanks currently stand in the way of building the additional facilities required to proceed with decommissioning.

Photo: The chimneys at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. Credit: Shutterstock