The leader of the UN’s nuclear energy body, the IAEA, visited the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and reassured locals that treated wastewater from the site is safe.

IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi observed the treatment of radioactive wastewater and its mixing with vast quantities of seawater, as well as examining a water sampling station.  

In an interview, Grossi expressed his confidence in the safety of proceedings at the plant. “We never say ‘this is done’ or ‘this is okay’ because there is a long way to go,” he said. “I would say it is a very positive and encouraging start.” 

In January 2024, Toyko Electric Power Company announced plans for a fourth release of treated wastewater from the Fukushima plant into the ocean as part of plans to formally decommission the plant following the 2011 nuclear disaster. The release of wastewater began in August 2023, drawing widespread criticism from neighbouring countries. Protests took place in South Korea, while the governments of China and Hong Kong banned Japanese seafood imports over fears of contamination.  

Fishing groups in Japan have raised concerns about the wastewater controversy’s impact on their livelihood. In response, the Japanese Government has created a compensation fund of more than Y100bn ($680m) to help them find new export markets. 

Nevertheless, scientists insist that the water released is completely safe. The wastewater is treated in a process that removes radionuclides aside from tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that decays into harmless helium and has a half-life of just 12 years. In 2023, test results of the released water found a rate of around 63 becquerels (a unit of radioactivity) per litre, well below the World Health Organisation’s limit of 10,000 becquerels per litre for drinking water. 

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