While Tokyo is known to be considering marine discharges as a way to deal with contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Korean government delegation made public the issue and called for international cooperation at the 63rd International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference in Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 16.
Moon Mi-ok, first vice minister of science and ICT, said, "A high-ranking Japanese government official recently mentioned the inevitability of marine discharges due to measures to deal with contaminated water from nuclear power plants. If the disposal of contaminated water from nuclear power plants is decided as an ocean discharge, it is a critical international issue that can affect the global maritime environment. Accordingly, the IAEA and member countries need to play a joint role."
"The on-site survey of Japan's status of nuclear reactors and contaminated water should be carried out in a scientific and objective manner, and the international community should come up with standards and measures to deal with contaminated water from nuclear power plants," Moon stressed.
On Sept. 5, the government sent a letter to the IAEA to convey its concerns about possible marine discharges of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant and its environmental impact. Moon also asked international organizations and interested parties to actively participate in the issue on Japan's handling of contaminated water.
Polluted water has continued to rise at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant since the 2011 earthquake, but Japan has failed to process the contaminated water and is putting it in a large water tank and storing it on a site at the plant. The amount of contaminated water reportedly reached 1.15 million tons as of the end of July.
As nuclear power plants are built in low-lying areas and underground water continues to flow through cracks that occurred during accidents, polluted water is bound to increase.
TEPCO has built walls around the reactor to reduce the inflow of underground water, while taking out internal contaminated water and storing it in a huge tank. However, with 150 to 170 tons of polluted water per day, experts predict it will be inevitable to release the water.
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission estimates that contaminated water storage space at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will be saturated in 2022.
Seoul believes that Japan should deal with contaminated water in a way other than discharges that could affect its neighboring countries and marine ecosystems. In particular, tritium, a radioactive substance contained in contaminated water, is currently difficult to completely remove with decontamination technology.
"Not only our country but also Russia, China, Canada, the U.S. and Taiwan, all of the Pacific neighbors, are interested parties on the issue," an official at the commission said. "We will work with them and ask Japan to find a reasonable alternative."