By Fredrik Dahl
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant recently and said he was impressed by Japan’s efforts both to decommission the stricken site and to revive the wider region that was also severely affected by the 2011 tsunami and the subsequent nuclear accident.
Travelling to Fukushima during his first official trip to Japan since taking office late last year, Grossi told plant staff that the IAEA was ready to continue to support Japan in these efforts.
“What I saw today has been very impressive,” he said, praising the dedication of workers who are often carrying out their jobs under difficult circumstances. “I’ve witnessed a very systematic and meticulous effort to deal with every obstacle you have been finding along the way.”
While still visibly damaged, the visit to the plant underlined the positive developments that have taken place in moving it from an emergency to a stabilized situation over the past nine years. Visitors can now go to much of the site without protective clothing, in contrast to the early years after the accident.
“The trend is very encouraging,” Grossi said. “We have been working with Japan since day one and we have seen all this progress. Of course, there are still challenges to address in the years ahead.”
One of them is the generation of contaminated water at the plant, currently stored at the site.
In late 2018, an IAEA-led mission of experts advised Japan to take a decision urgently on the disposition path for the water treated through a process called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System). A Japanese expert committee report submitted to the Government earlier this month outlined two options to dispose of the water after removing the radioactive contaminants except tritium: vapor release and discharge into the ocean.
The Japanese Government has asked the IAEA to review the committee’s report, Grossi said, describing it as comprehensive and based on a scientific analysis. The IAEA considers the disposal options as technically feasible and in line with international practice.
“The Agency welcomes the progress made by Japan towards reaching a decision on this matter,” Grossi added, stressing it was up to the Government to decide how to proceed as nuclear safety is a national responsibility.
“Once a decision is taken on the way forward, the IAEA would be ready to assist in its implementation, for example in radiation monitoring,” he said. ”It could help provide reassurance to the public – in Japan and elsewhere – that any releases of water would be within international standards.”
A subsequent visit by Grossi to a major sporting facility in a town known as J Village, some 20 kilometres south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, showed positive developments also in reviving the wider region. Its 11 soccer and rugby fields were turned into parking lots for thousands of commuting emergency workers after the accident, but J Village has since last year once again been hosting elite sport teams and will be the starting point next month for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic torch relay.
“The J Village training facility can be seen as a symbol for the reconstruction of the region near the Fukushima plant,” said Grossi.