(NEW YORK) — Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company began releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday afternoon.
Executives of the company, known as TEPCO, told reporters they would immediately halt the release of the treated water into the Pacific if any issues were detected. The water began flowing at about 1 p.m. local time with an initial plan to release water “continuously” over a period of 17 days, according to the company.
The controversial decision, which had drawn protests in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere, prompted Chinese officials to issue a searing statement on Thursday, saying Beijing “opposes and strongly condemns it.” Japan’s actions were “selfish and irresponsible” as the ocean “belongs to all humanity,” China said.
“There could be a man-made secondary disaster to the local people and the whole world if Japan chooses to dump the water into the ocean just to serve Japan’s selfish interests,” Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said in the statement.
Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency were at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as the water began flowing into the ocean, the agency said. Agency officials had signaled their approval for Japan’s plan.
“IAEA experts are there on the ground to serve as the eyes of the international community and ensure that the discharge is being carried out as planned consistent with IAEA safety standards,” Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement on Thursday.
Agency staffers had earlier in the week taken samples from the first batch of water to be released. The agency’s “independent on-site analysis” of that water confirmed that levels of tritium in the water were “far below the operational limit.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and international experts have asserted the treated water meets safety standards.
TEPCO will “under the continued guidance of the Japanese Government, handle this matter with the firm awareness that we are responsible for ‘preventing reputational damage’ and ‘not betraying the trust of the people of Fukushima and the Japanese people’ throughout the course of the discharge period,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
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