S. Korean nuclear safety authority to examine safety of Fukushima operator’s plans to dump water

Posted on : 2021-12-22 18:01 KST Modified on : 2021-12-22 18:01 KST
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission also sent a letter expressing dismay over the continued push to release the water, and demanding a transparent review
Contaminated water is currently being stored in roughly 1,000 tanks located at the Fukushima Daiichi site. (Yonhap News)
Contaminated water is currently being stored in roughly 1,000 tanks located at the Fukushima Daiichi site. (Yonhap News)

South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSCC) has begun a safety examination of a plan submitted by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to Japan’s nuclear regulator on Tuesday requesting approval of its plans to release water contaminated in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The NSCC is examining TEPCO’s “Application Documents for Approval to Amend the Implementation Plan for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Specified Nuclear Facility” to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

The NSCC also sent a letter to the NRA expressing dismay over the continued procedures for the water’s discharge into the ocean and demanding an independent and transparent review.

On Tuesday, South Korean Minister for Government Policy Coordination Koo Yun-cheol presided over a meeting of vice ministers from nine related offices, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Science and ICT. During the meeting, a decision was made to voice concerns over Japan’s unilateral push to release the contaminated water into the ocean, while also conveying this position through diplomatic channels.

In April, the Japanese government made decided to release contaminated water from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster into the ocean after diluting its radioactive content. TEPCO is now going through procedures to commence the discharge process as early as spring of 2023.

The NSSC said Tuesday that a “safety examination of the documents for approval to amend the implementation plan has been initiated by means of a Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety safety review team [consisting of 12 members].”

It also stated its plans to “continue implementing the necessary measures primarily through a task force of relevant offices.”

In its review, the NSSC plans to closely examine the soundness of the ocean discharge facilities — including their analysis, dilution, and intake/discharge of contaminated water; the suitability of methods used to analyze radioactive nuclides in the water; and the appropriateness of emergency prevention equipment for when irregularities arise.

In a separate letter to the NRA, the NSSC protested that the Japanese government had not engaged in sufficient discussions or provided adequate information to neighboring South Korea on why its approach to disposing contaminated water from Fukushima was unavoidable.

It also voiced deep dismay over the ocean discharge procedures continuing to go forward even as various issues have surfaced, including levels above the discharge threshold in roughly 70% of contaminated water samples even after the water has undergone the purification process once.

The NSSC shared a list of requests it has for the NRA, including the gathering and reflection of opinions from stakeholders outside of Japan; the transparent disclosure of relevant information and active cooperation with government requests and questions; and adequate reviews from a scientific and technical standpoint as an independent regulatory institution, rather than the selection of hard-and-fast review deadlines.

In an emergency briefing the same day, NSSC Chairperson Yoo Guk-hee said, “In connection with the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority stating a review timeline of 4.5 months at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference for the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in November, we requested that it conduct an adequate review for a scientific and technical standpoint without adhering to a deadline, as the prior designation of a deadline for a review by an independent regulatory institution could create the misunderstanding that the direction of the review outcome has already been determined.”

The NSSC plans to increase the number of monitoring checkpoints for radioactive material from Fukushima from 32 this year to 34 next year, while increasing its monitoring with more frequent examinations for cesium and tritium.

“We have continued to ask Japan for transparent disclosure and sufficient discussions on the ocean release of contaminated water, and we plan to continue calling for these in the future through the international community and various consultative group meetings,” Yoo said.

“In preparing for the ocean release of contaminated water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, we are making the South Korean public’s safety our priority and will make every necessary effort,” he added.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

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