The Fukushima disaster is one of only two nuclear accidents to be classified as a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
In 2011, an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, led to three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions, and a massive leak of radioactive contamination from the plant in central Japan.
The response by operators Tokyo Electric involved using huge amounts of water – nearly 1.2 million tonnes – to cool the Fukushima reactor’s white-hot fuel cores.
The water, containing 62 radioactive elements, is stored in huge tanks on the site of the disused nuclear plant, but Tokyo Electric has said it will run out of room to store the water in the next two years.
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Roughly 170 tons are being added to the total every day, and the operation to contain the nuclear material is set to continue for another 20 years.
So their plan is to allow the water to run into the sea.
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Experts say that any of the radioactive elements can be filtered out of the water before it is released but some – for example tritium, which has a half-life of about 12 years – will be too difficult to remove.
The economy and industry ministry say that it’s a safer option than the only other proposal, which is simply opening the tanks to the elements and letting the radioactive water evaporate.
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Rafael Grossi, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is currently on a visit to Japan. He says that releasing radioactive water is not at all unusual for nuclear power stations: "It is obvious that any methodology can be criticised.
“What we are saying from a technical point of view is that this process is in line with international practice," he said.
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But concerns have been raised by local fishermen, whose business has already been hit by an import ban for South Korea in the wake of the disaster, and competitors in the 2020 Olympic Games.
Some Olympic events are scheduled to be held approximately 30 miles from the stricken power station.
Officials in both South Korea and the secretive state of North Korea have expressed grave concerns about the plan, saying that the potential for an environmental disaster in the region is too great to ignore.
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