Fisheries officials uneasy at TEPCO plan to release groundwater

May 13, 2013


IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--Local fisheries officials on May 13 withheld their consent to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to release into the sea groundwater that is now flowing into its stricken nuclear power plant.

TEPCO is stuck with a steadily rising volume of highly contaminated water used to cool melted fuel at its crippled reactors. In addition, hundreds of tons of groundwater are flowing daily into the reactor and turbine buildings.

The problem is hindering the utility's preparation for the decommissioning process.

TEPCO intends to start releasing groundwater into the sea if fisheries officials here agree.

Clearly anticipating they could clinch an agreement, TEPCO officials met May 13 with representatives of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, the prefectural government and the Fisheries Agency here to discuss the plan. But they made no headway.

The utility envisages pumping groundwater from the site before it reaches the basement of the reactor and turbine buildings, as well as other facilities, and mixes with the highly contaminated water used for cooling.

Some 400 tons of groundwater flows into the complex daily.

During the meeting, TEPCO officials explained the plan to pump groundwater and release it after confirming its safety.

They said the concentration of radioactive materials in groundwater pumped through wells that TEPCO dug are lower than the figures detected in nearby rivers.

Tetsu Nozaki, who heads the federation, said the group will hold off on making a decision, reversing his earlier position.

“As for giving our consent, this is something that must go back to the drawing board,” he said. “TEPCO and the central government need to provide us with a full explanation.”

Nozaki had earlier signaled that consent would be given.

One fisheries official called for more time to decide on the matter, saying, “Some members do not understand the difference between groundwater and contaminated water.”

Another voiced opposition, saying, “I cannot see clearly how the central government will get involved in this.”

The utility plans to dig 12 wells on its premises to pump groundwater. The idea is that it will be stored in tanks temporarily and released into sea after TEPCO confirms its safety.

The overall amount of contaminated water at the plant now stands at 380,000 tons. It is stored at tanks and other facilities on the premises.

The figure is expected to reach 700,000 tons in 2015.

Even if TEPCO releases groundwater into the sea, it does not mean that the entire inflow of groundwater into the buildings will stop.

The utility estimated that pumping will reduce the total inflow by about 100 tons a day.

However, a TEPCO official acknowledged that the figure could vary once actual pumping work begins.

(This article was written by Shunsuke Kimura and Takemichi Nishibori.)

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The Asahi Shimbun

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  • A member of the Fukushima prefectural federation of fisheries co-operatives reads a reference paper on TEPCO's plan to release groundwater before the federation's meeting on May 13. (Shiro Nishihata)

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