Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will travel to Japan in December to look into Tokyo’s plan to release water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the sides agreed on Thursday.

The decision was made during a three-day visit to Japan by the IAEA’s deputy director general and head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, Lydie Evrard. The trip included meetings with top officials in Tokyo and a tour of the Fukushima plant, which was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami back in 2011.

The UN nuclear watchdog’s mission is expected to arrive in Japan shortly before the New Year to assess the condition of the treated water to be released; the safety of the disposal procedure and the effects of radiation on the environment, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced.

The IAEA also confirmed that the initial mission schedule, some other details of its multi-year review, and a plan to monitor the discharge of Fukushima water have been agreed with Tokyo.

Japan says it’s going to release more than one million tons of contaminated water from the ill-fated Fukushima plant into the sea. According to the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), a one-kilometer-long underwater tunnel will be built to make sure that radioactive materials don’t make it back to the coast. The discharge is expected to begin as early as the spring of 2023.

The contaminated water at Fukushima is treated by a purification system that removes most radionuclides, except tritium, from it.

Tokyo’s plans have angered local fishermen, who fear that sea life in the area may end up getting contaminated, as well as authorities in neighboring China and South Korea.

The invitation of IAEA experts to assess the release of the water and make sure it meets the organization’s standards is part of Japan’s attempts to alleviate those concerns. 

“I welcome Japan’s invitation for the agency to conduct the first technical review,” Evrard said, adding that its probe will ensure the “safety and transparency” of the water release, and its results will be shared with the international community.

The IAEA is going to publish a report on the review before spring 2023 and will then continue monitoring the discharge, she added.

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