TOKYO: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Task Force reviewing the safety of Japan’s planned discharge of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station (NPS) has this week conducted a mission in the country on the regulatory aspects of the plan.
The Government of Japan announced its Basic Policy in April 2021 to discharge the water into the sea, subject to regulatory approval from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the independent body set up in response to the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS.
Over the past five days, the Task Force met with NRA officials in Tokyo to discuss regulatory responsibilities, the authorization process, preparations for environmental radiation monitoring, and the NRA’s plans to consult with and involve the public in the regulatory process. The Task Force observed a robust commitment to align the regulatory plans related to the treated water discharge with the IAEA safety standards.
The IAEA safety standards reflect an international consensus and serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.
Upon publication of the Government’s Basic Policy a year ago, Japan requested the IAEA to review the safety of its implementation against the IAEA Safety standards.
Saying the IAEA would support Japan before, during and after the discharge, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi last year established a Task Force, made up of IAEA staff and senior external experts from eleven countries serving in their personal capacities, under the authority of the IAEA, to conduct this safety review.
This week’s mission focused on regulatory aspects. The first mission in February 2022 made headway in assessing the safety of the technical and operational plans of the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
Director General Grossi said the Task Force’s review of both the technical and regulatory aspects would result in a comprehensive safety analysis of the discharge. “The review is being carried out in an objective, credible, and science-based manner and helps to send a message of transparency and confidence to people in Japan and beyond,” he said.
Water Management and Monitoring
Water accumulating at the Fukushima Daiichi site since the accident 11 years ago has been treated through a filtration process known as Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to reduce the radioactivity before being stored in tanks. Space for the tanks is running out and the long-term management of the treated water is necessary to allow for the further necessary decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS.
“The management of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi site is a challenging situation in terms of safety regulation. The NRA has demonstrated to the Agency’s Task Force that they are committed to applying a regulatory approach in line with the IAEA safety standards,” said Deputy Director General Lydie Evrard, Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, at a virtual press conference.
A third aspect of the Task Force’s review, in addition to the technical and regulatory aspects, is the independent sampling and analysis of the treated water to corroborate TEPCO data, both for the treated water stored in the tanks and for the marine environment.
Building on experience gained from test sampling in February, Task Force members during this technical visit also observed TEPCO’s sampling at the site and collected some 150 litres of treated water which will be sent for analysis by IAEA laboratories in Monaco, Seibersdorf and Vienna, and three laboratories in other Member States.
The Task Force will finalise their observations from this week’s discussions in a report to be published in about two months’ time. The report will outline the progress made in the review and the NRA has committed to take it into account as they proceed with their independent regulatory review of the discharge plan. The report from February’s technical review mission will be available in about one month’s time.
Japan has invited the Task Force to carry out follow-up missions for both technical and regulatory reviews this year and next.
A comprehensive report containing the overall conclusions of the Task Force will be published before any treated water is released.
“The NRA and the Task Force engaged in frank and wide-ranging discussions during this last week which permitted the Task Force to obtain a full understanding of the regulatory approach related to the technical plans of TEPCO and METI for the discharge. The Task Force review on key regulatory aspects will benefit from this open and transparent approach,” said Gustavo Caruso, a Director within the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security and Chair of the Task Force.