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TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s new prime minister said on Sunday that the planned mass disposal of treated but still radioactive water stored in the tsunami-destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant could not be delayed, despite concerns from local residents.

Speaking on his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would try to reassure residents of the prefecture about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Kishida’s brief visit to the facility by its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, focused on the ongoing dismantling of the plant and the massive amount of treated but still radioactive water stored there.

“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial issue that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour.

The government and TEPCO announced in April their intention to begin releasing water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over a period of decades. The water will be further treated and diluted with seawater to allowable levels before disposal.

The plan was fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and neighbors of Japan, including China and South Korea.

Contaminated cooling water continued to leak from reactors damaged since the disaster. Water has been pumped from basements and stored in around 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach capacity by the end of next year.

Japanese officials say that removing the water is essential for cleaning up the plant, and releasing it into the ocean is the most realistic option.

Kishida said the government would do everything possible to address fears that the water drain would harm local fishing and other industries.

“We will provide explanations of the safety (of disposal) from a scientific and transparent point of view in order to allay various concerns,” Kishida said.

Japan has requested the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the release meets global safety standards.

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