Japanese proposal to dump radioactive water from disabled nuclear power plant gets approval
In December 2019, a government-appointed panel proposed that the best way to dispose of the radioactive water stored in Japan’s disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is to release it into the Pacific Ocean.
This is the first of two suggestions from the committee counseling Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) on how to address a staggering 1.2 million tons of tainted wastewater in above-ground tanks at the power plant.
In March 2011, the tritium-laced radioactive water was used to cool the plant’s molten reactors after they melted down. The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, considered one of the most severe nuclear accidents in world history, was caused by a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake at sea.
In November 2019, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the power plant’s operator, said that the storage tanks will reach maximum capacity by the summer of 2020 since the water level rises by 170 tons every day.
METI then commented that the radioactive water can be safely discarded into the ocean. The ministry claims that there’s nothing to worry about since “the amount of radiation would be small compared to what humans are normally exposed to.”
Aside from the radioactive water’s slow release into the Pacific Ocean, METI’s second proposed solution was to evaporate the tritium-laced water. The ministry nixed three other options that weren’t feasible.
However, the Japanese fishing industry was strongly against the decision since releasing the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean will affect fisheries within the area.
Greenpeace Japan also criticized the panel’s recommendation since the ocean dump will certainly threaten the environment. The group also noted that the move points to the government’s disregard for other safer alternatives.
Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, explained that the suggestion to dump the radioactive water into the Pacific makes no sense. “There is no justification for additional, deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment or atmosphere,” he stated.
Burnie added that pushing the decision to discharge more than one million tons of highly radioactive water into the Pacific (or into the atmosphere) will gravely endanger the citizens of Fukushima and its fisheries.
Preventing a global ecological disaster
On February 10, 2020, Greenpeace reported that METI proposed a final report to Tokyo, stating that dumping Fukushima’s radioactive water into the Pacific was the best course of action.
Back in 2015, Japan suggested an ocean dump as part of its “intermediate-term road map for reducing risks related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.” The country has now quietly begun the process to make the proposal official.
Just as experts voiced their concern about the proposed ocean dumping in 2019, the researchers remain apprehensive at present time about the suggestion since dumping the radioactive water into the ocean spells trouble not just for humanity, but especially for marine life.
A closer look at METI’s proposal reveals that the first step of the ocean dump is to lower the concentrations of nuclear material in the radioactive water via a multi-nuclide removal system. The next step is to purify the remaining radioactivity with water annually, after which the waste will be discharged and dumped into the Pacific.
But there is a lack of verified scientific data proving that the concentrations of the 200 or so varieties of nuclear material leaked by the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster are within permissible thresholds. There are even reports that both the Japanese government and TEPCO acknowledge their failure to control some of the radioactive material, such as tritium.
Burnie concluded that the matter isn’t just a domestic one. He urges the Japanese government to educate the international community and the country’s nearest Asian neighbors on why it has decided to push through with dumping radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean or letting it evaporate into the atmosphere, knowing full well that both options will devastate human and aquatic lives and threaten the Japanese fishing industry.
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