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Press Conference by Minister Kajiyama

*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.

9:33–9:52 a.m.
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Press Conference Room, METI

Opening Remarks

ALPS Treated Water

Please let me share one thing first.

In today’s Inter-ministerial council for contaminated water, treated water and decommissioning issues with the Prime Minister present, the basic policy on handling of ALPS treated water at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been finalized. I would like to add one thing. As of this March, it has been 10 years since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident. But Fukushima is still on the path to recovery and remains the highest-priority issue for the government.

For a successful final recovery from the earthquake, it is necessary to move forward with decommissioning and lowering the risk to the neighboring regions. ALPS Treated Water is part of this effort and is something that cannot be avoided. This matter involves the risk of harmful rumors and has been under consideration for a long time; however, it needs to move forward in order to advance the recovery of the region.

Based on this understanding, today we decided the policy to release ALPS treated water into the ocean, based on the premise of strictly ensuring safety, transparency and third-party monitoring.

I am very much aware that the people in the regions impacted by the earthquake including Fukushima are concerned about the adverse impacts on reputation and believe the decision made under such circumstances is very important. The government is taking the responsibility of this action very seriously.

In today’s meeting, Prime Minister Suga also instructed us to undertake all possible measures and fulfill our responsibilities until this monumental task is completed, as a whole government united, to provide security to people with significant concerns.

10 years ago when the earthquake hit, my electoral district Ibaraki Prefecture was also affected by actual and reputational damage, especially in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, so I understand from real-world experience how difficult it is to deal with these issues, and I am committed to overcoming them.

Regarding this matter, while making use of my experience, and ensuring that efforts made by those undertaking the task of reconstruction are never wasted, I am willing to lead from the front and to take steps toward a full recovery.

The contents of the basic policy and detailed discussions of the cabinet meeting will be shared at a later time by staff at the briefing.

Also, later today, I will be visiting Fukushima to have a meeting with Governor Uchihori, Prefectural Assembly Chairman Ota, Futaba Town Mayor Izawa, Okuma Town Mayor Yoshida, and Fukushima Prefecture Fishery Cooperatives Chairman Nozaki in order to explain the basic policy personally.

Thank you for your attention.

Question-and-Answer Session

ALPS Treated Water

Q: Once again, could you explain what this decision was like for you, and your thought about the decision? Also, what are the issues of concern, and what are your concerns, if any?

A: As I have repeatedly stated, the discharge of ALPS treated water is not something we can postpone any further, given that the premises of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station becomes more strained. With the potential of damage caused by incorrect rumors being a serious concern, this decision has been taken with a very serious consideration of the responsibility. However, The government finalized the basic policy at the ministerial meeting, as the government concluded that two measures can be implemented: i) measures such as establishment of comprehensive monitoring system to certainly ensure safety; ii) measures against reputational damage, taking into consideration the concerns of fishery operators and others.

On April 7th when the Prime Minister and I had a meeting with Fishery Cooperatives Executives, we were told that the Cooperatives remained opposed to the plan. Having asserted their position, they strongly requested continuous communication of scientific information and effective measures against potential damaging rumors.

As the government, we have taken their concerns to heart and are committed to removing any such concerns.

To make this happen, for the 2 years before actual release begins, we are planning to engage in full-fledged public relations efforts, by disseminating evidence-based information on the safety of the circumstances. We will support the opening of a new market channels which will actively combat potential rumors in advance, and provide compensation in the event of reputational damage. And in addition to complying with regulatory standards, we will ensure transparent dissemination of information about operational situations including the third-party monitoring of international organizations and local governments, etc. With the cooperation of relevant ministries and agencies, we will support equipment installations to increase fish landings, and assist with equipment installation for logistics operators and processors to remove distribution bottlenecks, providing comprehensive assistance to ensure continuous operation of the fishery, by support measures such as opening a new market channels. We will do our utmost endeavors to maintain the safety of the local environment even after releasing ALPS treated water fully utilizing the effect of a half-life period of tritium.

About these efforts, we will continue to provide updates and information to the Fishery Cooperatives.

Q: Until recently, Minister Kajiyama had indicated that he hoped to make such a decision when the time was appropriate. Prefecture Fishery Cooperatives have just finished test operations and are transitioning to actual operation. Do you think now is the appropriate time?

A: With the land to construct additional tanks to store ALPS treated water running critically short, we simply cannot postpone this decision any longer. The government finalized the basic policy at the ministerial meeting, as the government concluded that two measures can be implemented: i) measures such as establishment of comprehensive monitoring system to certainly ensure safety; ii) measures against reputational damage, taking into consideration the concerns of fishery operators and others. I believe the timing of the decision is appropriate.

There are various opinions and aspirations. As you mentioned, I am aware of the transition from testing to actual operation of fisheries. I have heard the opinions and concerns directly from stakeholders; however, with the current situation in which we are running short of land for additional tanks, and considering the countermeasures that will be taken for the release, I believe the timing was right.

Q: In 2015, in discussions on releasing water from the sub-drains, you promised not to undertake any release without obtaining the understanding of the stakeholders. Do you think that this promise is being fulfilled? Additionally, how will it be decided that people’s understanding has actually been obtained, and who will make that determination?

A: We will continue to explain the situation thoroughly to the concerned parties, but I believe it is important to keep making efforts to gain understanding, especially from local people.

I received dissenting opinions from various people including the Fukushima Prefecture Fishery Cooperative Nozaki. Based on that, I also received a request for evidence-based information dispatch and thorough measures against reputational damage.

After the decision was made at the meeting, and considering that it will take about 2 years before any release actually begins, we will use that time to make maximum efforts to remove any remaining concerns and to gain the understanding of the stakeholders in fisheries.

Q: Who will make the determination that understanding has been obtained, and what process will be used to make the determination?

A: I am not in a position to answer such a hypothetical question. In the process of gaining understanding from now on, we will be making our utmost endeavors. I seek your understanding of our current position.

Q: I have two questions. First, Fishery Cooperatives has just released a statement strongly objecting to the decision. How is that statement being addressed?

My second question is about the method of release. Experiments have been done on tritium separation in the past, but if related technologies advance in the future, is there the possibility of reexamining the course of action?

A: I will respond to the second question first. This issue was talked about in the committee and elsewhere. Also, I am aware that a tritium removal experiment has been done at the lab level, but we all, including international organizations, agree that it is not yet the stage where high volume processing is possible.

Still, there are cases where technologies develop in a short period and breakthroughs are possible as well. If a technology is developed that can be put to practical use, we will make use of it. We are very flexible on this point.

Q: Will you please now answer my first question? Fishery Cooperatives once again has just released a statement strongly objecting to the decision. How will you address the statement?

A: It was discussed in the meeting last week. Following that, I will be meeting with Fukushima Fisheries Cooperatives today. We are undertaking continued outreach activities to explain today's decision again and are reaching out to the chairman to explain our rationale and the efforts we will be making.

Q: I’m a freelance journalist, Kimura.
Previously, in discussing whether understanding can be gained or not, you mentioned that you will keep making efforts. Can I understand that if the understanding cannot be obtained, treated water will not be released into the sea?

I have already asked Tokyo Electric Power Company about this, but I have not received an answer. What is your response?

A: All I can say is that since there is still a 2-year approval, licensing, and equipment installation process ahead of us, we will make all efforts to obtain this understanding.

Q: And if their understanding can’t be gained?

A: I can only say that it is difficult to foresee the situation 2 years in the future. So, I will be making maximum efforts to achieve this, and further discussions will occur to gain the understanding of concerned parties.

Q: Just one thing. If the understanding cannot be gained, release into the sea will not take place. You cannot say that definitely, can you?

A: The actual situation is that we are running out of space for storage of the treated water. Some people wonder if there is more land somewhere, or they question why we do not create more tanks. On the other hand, the decommissioning of the reactors is progressing.

In the decommissioning process, space for many kinds of materials, some of which contacted radioactive substances, is needed. In this situation in which space is limited, we believe we have been organizing the system to address requests from concerned parties wherever possible. I would hope that you can understand that we will be making our utmost efforts throughout the next 2 years. I will tell concerned parties the same thing.

Q: The Prime Minister has just said the release will start in about 2 years. On the other hand, it has been explained that the tanks will be full around the fall of 2022. These two statements seem to contradict each other. What are your thoughts on this time inconsistency?

A: The amount of contaminated water generated in 2020 was lower than expected as of February and the forecast is therefore being moved back. The estimation in last February was included in the report by the subcommittee as of last February. In this report, it was estimated that tanks would be full in August, two years after the report was published. That being said, for instance, the situation could change depending on the precipitation amount every month, and we are creating estimates based on current data. If the amount becomes lower again, it will again be extended ahead. In fact, the initial estimates have been extend ahead consistently. But this will be examined carefully over the next 2 years to ensure that we do not actually run out of storage tanks.

Q: Fishery operators continue to object to the plan and the call for public comment has received quite a few negative opinions as the subcommittee reported. Despite these objections, the decision was made. Do you think the process of decision making was correct?

A: I believe it was. The subcommittee discussed the option of continuation of storage and the five different methods of handling methods and came to the conclusion that we will have to release it eventually. Regarding the method, subcommittee concluded release to the ocean and vapor release were the two most practical options. Internationally, there is a proven track record of vapor release, and in Japan, of ocean release. The fact that international standards actually exist for release into the ocean from operating nuclear facilities, led the subcommittee to select the method of release into the ocean. To come to this conclusion, they consulted with many experts, and the subcommittee has been discussing the issue for 6 years. We also asked for opinions from people in the agricultural, forestry, and fishery industries. After the report was released in February last year, we heard additional opinions from people in relevant industries including agricultural, forestry and fisheries, commerce, and manufacturing industry. We received about 4,000 public comments. With all these factors and the time constraints mentioned today, we believe it was an appropriate decision.

Q: The plan is that for the next 40 years, 10 times as much as the amount of tritium released in normal operation of the Fukushima Daiichi NPS before the accident will be released into the sea every year. This will inevitably lead to strong, domestic and international criticism. The citizens’ commission on nuclear energy, a NPO, has been advocating that contaminated water should not be released into the ocean, but should continue to be stored in secure tanks on land. The organization has also requested that solidification of the water using mortar be considered as an option. The other day they made an emergency proposal to cancel ocean release but the government has not responded to the proposal. A number of voters for the upcoming local elections and the general election might think they have to vote against candidates from the ruling parties and even from opposition parties who agreed with ocean release, with Minister Kajiyama included. The elections currently scheduled are by-elections in Hokkaido and Nagano, follow-up election in Hiroshima, and the general election of the House of Representatives. Those voters may think that since the government does not listen to them opposing the outrageous plan for ocean release, they have to elect the opposition parties which promise to adopt alternative solutions such as mortar solidification to replace the ruling parties.

Are you carrying out ocean release despite all of these risks and issues that I have mentioned here? Is this your final answer? Please clarify your position.

A: I will not comment about elections.

But as I said before, I am aware that this is a decision that involves very heavy responsibility. Also, I am not sure if mortar solidification is a really practical option because heat emitted will vaporize tritiated water and release the steam into the atmosphere. There is no secure method of monitoring that steam once it is dispersed into the air. We concluded that considering the monitoring method, at this point in time, releasing the treated water into the ocean is the most appropriate option, but if other options are found appropriate, we will consider them. We are open to any future technological developments. However, the mortar solidification that you mentioned involves the emission of steam with heat, so it is not thought to be appropriate. I believe we need to provide scientific grounds for any action we take in relation to this option.

Last updated:2021-04-13