Japan is considering beginning the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea between late August and early September, even though local fishermen and some countries remain opposed to the plan, government sources said Monday.
The government is expected to determine the specific date to start releasing the water after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida returns on Aug. 20 from a trilateral summit with the United States and South Korea to be held at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington.
During their U.S. visit, the Japanese prime minister is expected to explain once again the water discharge plan to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, hoping this will be relayed to the South Korean public to alleviate their concerns, according to the sources.
Japan could delay the start of the release, however, until after explaining the plan to Chinese leaders on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia and a Group of 20 summit in India, both scheduled for early September, the sources added.
While some European countries have recently removed their restrictions on Japanese food imports, China has introduced blanket radiation testing on Japanese seafood in an apparent bid to put pressure on Tokyo over the water discharge plan.
After the government under Kishida's predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, approved a plan in April 2021 to discharge the water into the sea "in around two years," the current administration decided in January to carry it out sometime "from spring to around summer."
On Monday, Kishida told reporters there is no change to that plan.
The government has been weighing the timing since the International Atomic Energy Agency said in its final report in early July that the planned discharge would comply with global safety standards.
But challenges remain for the Japanese government to address, including safety concerns among some neighboring and Pacific countries, as well as worries among local fishermen about the potential reputational damage to their seafood products.
If the water release commences as planned, it will coincide with the trawl fishing season off Fukushima starting in September.
South Korea has said it "respects" the outcome of the U.N. agency's report, with Yoon requesting Japan to share real-time monitoring information and allow South Korean experts to participate in the safety checking process.
Kishida also plans to hold talks with the head of Japan's national fisheries federation to convey the government's readiness to implement measures to protect the reputation of seafood products, other sources said.
As of late July, the volume of treated water stored in tanks at the Fukushima nuclear complex totaled about 1.34 million tons, or 98 percent of storage capacity, according to the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
The treated water with trace amounts of tritium will be diluted to one-40th of the concentration permitted under Japanese safety standards before being released via an underwater tunnel 1 kilometer off the power plant.