IAEA in Japan to conduct first Fukushima treated water mission

A Task Force established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the safety of the planned release of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station will carry out its first mission in Japan mid-February. The mission will include technical discussions in Tokyo and a visit to the site of the 2011 accident, where Task Force members will observe handling of the water now stored in tanks.

The Government of Japan announced its basic policy in April last year to gradually discharge the treated water into the sea subject to approval from its independent regulatory body. It requested the IAEA’s assistance to help ensure it takes place in line with international safety standards and without harming public health or the environment. 

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the IAEA would conduct the review and assist Japan before, during and after the release, which is planned to begin approximately two years after the basic policy announcement. After the two sides agreed on the project’s Terms of Reference, the IAEA sent a team to Japan in September to begin implementation of the multi-annual review.

In a new step, the Task Force set up last year to implement the IAEA’s program to review Japan’s plans and actions related to the water discharge will be in the country from 14-18 February.

Staff members from IAEA departments and laboratories, as well as eleven independent, internationally recognized experts with diverse technical competencies from Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Viet Nam, make up the Task Force.

Grossi emphasized the “enormous importance” of the Task Force’s work, saying its members were among the world’s leading scientists and experts in the areas of nuclear safety and radiation protection. It will demonstrate that the IAEA review is carried out in an objective, credible, and science-based manner and help send a message of transparency and confidence to people in Japan and beyond.

“The IAEA’s Task Force, with its independent, technical and impartial members from across the globe, will play a crucial role in monitoring and reviewing Japan’s implementation of its water release plan,” he said. 

“The Task Force will verify that the water discharge is conducted safely. This will help reassure people in Japan and elsewhere in the world, especially in neighboring countries.”

The Task Force members will not work in a national capacity but instead serve in their individual professional roles, managed by the IAEA and reporting to its Director General. The findings from each mission to Japan will be published and then compiled into a full report on the overall safety of the water discharge prior to its planned start.

In part used to cool melted reactor fuel, water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station is treated through a process known as Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to remove radionuclides except tritium and then stored at the site. Sustainable water management is key for continued progress in the decommissioning of plant, as the tanks holding the water occupy a large area of the coastal site in eastern Japan and are nearing full capacity.

Under the agreed terms, the IAEA will examine key safety elements of Japan’s discharge plan, including:

  • The radiological characterization of the water to be discharged.
  • Safety related aspects of the water discharge process.
  • The environmental monitoring associated with the discharge.
  • The assessment of the radiological environmental impact related to ensuring the protection of people and environment.
  • The regulatory control including authorization, inspection and review and assessment.

While on site for the review mission, Task Force members will observe Japan’s handling of the ALPS treated water held in the storage tanks. This will provide useful information to IAEA laboratories as they develop detailed procedures to corroborate the radioactivity measurement results which will be reported by Japan throughout the review. 

In Tokyo, the Task Force will meet with experts from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), the operator for the stricken power station.

A few members of the Task Force will remain in Japan following the mission to begin preparations for reviewing the regulatory aspects of the discharge.

The IAEA and Japan have been cooperating extensively over the past decade to deal with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, in areas such as radiation monitoring, remediation, waste management and decommissioning. The IAEA’s safety reviews are based on its safety standards, which constitute the worldwide reference for protecting the public and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

Image credit: iStock/ ArtwayPics.  Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant photo was taken in December 2016 from Namie city coastal part, north from Daiichi. The plant suffered huge damage from the magnitude 9.1 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

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