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Japan to resume effort to tackle contaminated water problem at Fukushima

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By Reuters
Japan to resume effort to tackle contaminated water problem at Fukushima
FILE PHOTO: Storage tanks for radioactive water are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato   -   Copyright  ISSEI KATO(Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is resuming efforts to disperse a build-up of contaminated water at Tokyo Electric Power’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant that is stalling progress on cleaning up the site, the government said on Thursday.

A panel of experts will meet on Friday for the first time in eight months to consider options to get rid of the water, Japan’s government said in briefing documents it released.

The panel will consider strategies such as evaporation of the water and injection deep underground, in addition to a recommendation by Japan’s nuclear regulator to release the treated water into the ocean, a more conventional technique.

Regular meetings of the panel had stopped nearly three months after Tokyo Electric (Tepco) admitted it had not managed to completely remove potentially dangerous radioactive particles from treated water held in tanks.

The admission had been a setback for the company and the government, as the water hampered clean-up of the site where three reactors melted down after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

In 2016, the Japanese government estimated that the total cost of plant dismantling, decontamination of affected areas, and compensation, would be 21.5 trillion yen (£166.6 billion), or about a fifth of the country’s annual budget.

Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics around six years ago, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declaring that Fukushima was “under control” in his final pitch to the International Olympic Committee.

At nuclear sites around the world, contaminated water is treated to remove all radioactive particles except tritium, a relatively harmless isotope of hydrogen hard to separate from water and released into the environment.

But because of missteps such as last year’s admission that it had not removed everything except tritium from the tanks, Tepco faces difficulties winning the trust of regional fisherman who oppose the water’s release into the ocean.

Some countries, including South Korea, still have restrictions on produce from areas around the Fukushima site.

Tepco has completed replacement of older tanks that had experienced leaks with stronger ones, the government said.

It is expected to run out of tank space by mid-2022, the government added, adding to the urgency to resolve the problem.

(Reporting by Megu Jones and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)