In its first official report on the topic, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said that Japan’s release of treated radioactive wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant into the Pacific Ocean complies with international safety standards.

The report was based on a review mission in October 2023 by an IAEA taskforce comprising the agency’s officials and independent experts from 11 countries including China, which is currently imposing an import ban on Japanese seafood due to safety concerns.

The taskforce reviewed the facilities and equipment used to treat the water, including the liquid processing system that removes most radionuclides except tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tritium has a half-life of 12 years and decays into helium, which is harmless. The levels of tritium found in the surrounding waters since the initial discharge are well below World Health Organisation limits for drinking water quality.

Despite such reassurances, China and Hong Kong banned seafood imports from Japan at the outset of the discharge in August last year, leading to a 67% drop from the same month a year earlier. Hundreds of South Koreans took to the streets in Seoul to protest the decision due to safety and ecological concerns.

Scientists have noted that China’s own nuclear power plants release wastewater with higher levels of tritium than that found in the Fukushima discharge.

Japan has so far discharged a total of 23,400 tonnes of water since August. The Japanese Government sees the disposal of wastewater as a key step in the decommissioning of the Fukushima power plant, which experienced a meltdown following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

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Tokyo Electric Power Company aims to start the fourth release of water in late February. The fifth and sixth discharges will occur during the fiscal year ending March 2025. The whole process involves releasing one million tonnes of discharge and is scheduled to take 30–40 years.