Japanese is getting close to releasing treated radioactive water into the ocean, despite opposition.

The head of a South Korean team of experts said Wednesday they saw all the facilities they had requested to visit at Japan’s tsunami-ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant and Japanese officials had carefully answered their questions about a controversial plan to release treated but still somewhat radioactive water into the sea, a sign of a further thaw in ties between the countries.

During their two-day visit, which was closed to the media, officials from the Japanese government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, showed the 21-member delegation facilities related to the treatment, safety checks, transportation and dilution of the waste water.

The the plan has faced fierce protests from local fishing communities concerned about safety and reputational damage. Neighboring countries, including South Korea, China and the Pacific Islands, have also raised security concerns.

The story continues below the ad

People hold banners during a demonstration against the Japanese government’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Photo by AP/Lee Jin-man

The water spill has been a particularly sensitive issue between Tokyo and Seoul, which are now repairing long strained ties to meet greater challenges such as security threats from China and North Korea.

“We saw all the necessary facilities that were included in the original plan,” said Yoo Guk-hee, chairman of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, who is leading the delegation. His government has been studying the water release plan since August 2021 and submitted a list of facilities it wanted to see, he said.

The delegation also received data showing levels of radioactivity in the water before and after treatment that they still need to analyze and confirm, Yoo told reporters. He did not provide his evaluation of the water release plan.

His team will hold talks with Japanese officials in Tokyo on Thursday before returning home on Friday.

The story continues below the ad

Click to play the video:

China calls Japan’s decision to release polluted water into sea ‘extremely irresponsible’

Japanese officials say the water will be treated to legally releaseable levels and further diluted with large amounts of seawater. It will be gradually released into the sea over decades through an underwater tunnel, making it harmless to humans and marine life, they say.

Some scientists say the effects of long-term low-dose exposures to radionuclides are unknown and the release should be delayed.

Historical disputes have strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul but their relationship has thawed rapidly in recent months as the two US allies, under pressure from Washington, share a sense of urgency to mend ties amid growing regional security threats.

A massive March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s cooling system, causing three reactors to melt down and releasing large amounts of radiation. Water used to cool the reactor cores was collected in about 1,000 tanks at the facility, which will reach capacity in early 2024.

The story continues below the ad

Japanese officials say the water stored in the tanks must be removed to prevent accidental leaks in the event of another disaster and to make way for the plant’s decommissioning.

— AP video journalist Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

© 2023 The Canadian Press