Japan utility starts release of second batch of treated radioactive water

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) started releasing on Thursday more treated radioactive water from Japan’s wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as part of a plan that has caused tension with neighbouring China.

The discharge plan kicked off in August in a key step towards decommissioning the plant, which suffered meltdowns after being hit by a tsunami in 2011 in the world’s worst such nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years earlier.

The release that began on Thursday morning will run for about 17 days, as about 7,800 cubic metres (275,454 cubic feet) of the water is discharged into the Pacific Ocean, Tepco said in a statement.

“We started the release of the treated water into the ocean,” it added.

Although nuclear authorities, including the United Nations watchdog, have said the plan will have a negligible impact on humans and the environment, it has still angered some neighbours, particularly China.

The initial release late in August triggered a blanket ban on Japanese seafood products by China, Hong Kong, and Macau. There was also a deluge of harassment calls to Japanese businesses and offices believed to originate from China.

The utility had received more than 6,000 calls from abroad between August 24 and 27, Junichi Matsumoto, the official overseeing the release, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Tepco did not track the exact number of such calls, however.

Japan says the water is treated to remove most radioactive elements except tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that must be diluted as it is difficult to filter.

Tritium levels in surrounding waters since the initial discharge have met pre-determined standards, tests by Tepco show.

“The first water discharge went forward as planned,” Matsumoto said, adding that no major issues had been identified.

Despite the reassurances, a group of five people demonstrated outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong to demand an immediate halt to the discharge plan.

“Maybe Japan can explore various alternative approaches to engage the international community and find better ways to address this issue with us,” one of the protesters, Pang Yap-ming, 31, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Joyce Zhou in Hong Kong; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)