In a move that has stirred controversy both within and outside its borders, Japan is set to begin discharging treated radioactive wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. This action comes over a decade after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that led to a relentless battle against rising volumes of radioactive water at the plant.
The Japanese government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), argue that the release is an unavoidable part of the plant’s decommissioning process and assure that it will be conducted safely. However, this assurance has done little to quell the opposition. The 2011 disaster resulted in the plant’s cooling systems being destroyed, causing three reactors to melt and leak highly contaminated cooling water continuously, which mixed with groundwater. Despite TEPCO’s efforts to limit the inflow of groundwater and rainwater into the reactor area, the contaminated water continues to increase, albeit at a reduced rate.
Japanese Officials Plan to Release Treated Radioactive Wastewater into Ocean
Japanese officials have unveiled a controversial plan to discharge treated radioactive wastewater from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean starting Thursday. This decision comes more than 12 years after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami triggered a battle against increasing volumes of radioactive water at the plant.
The Unavoidable Release
Despite opposition within and outside Japan, the government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), argue that the release is an inevitable part of the plant’s decommissioning and will be carried out safely. Following the 2011 disaster, the plant’s cooling systems were destroyed, leading to continuous leakage of highly contaminated cooling water into building basements and mixing with groundwater. TEPCO has managed to reduce the increase in contaminated water to about 100 tons a day, a fifth of the initial amount, and has stored the excess in around 1,000 tanks. These tanks are now filled to 98% of their 1.37 million-ton capacity.
What’s in the Treated Water?
The wastewater is treated using an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) capable of reducing the levels of over 60 selected radionuclides to levels set by the Japanese government, except for tritium. However, about 70% of the water still contains cesium, strontium, carbon-14, and other radionuclides exceeding government-set levels. It is intended that this water will be further treated until it meets the required concentrations, then diluted by more than 100 times its volume of seawater before release. Although the radioactivity levels will be significantly lower than international safety limits, they won’t be zero.
Safety Concerns and Release Plans
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded in a report that the release, if conducted as planned, will have minimal impact on the environment and human health. TEPCO plans to initiate the release with the least radioactive water, transporting it through a thin black pipe to a coastal area where it will be diluted with hundreds of times its volume of seawater. The diluted water will then be released gradually through an undersea tunnel, a process that will continue for decades until the decommissioning of the plant is complete.
Despite assurances of safety, concerns persist, particularly from the fisheries industry, which fears further damage to their reputation and the seafood industry. Furthermore, concerns raised by groups in South Korea and China have turned the release into a political and diplomatic issue.
The release of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is a contentious issue that highlights the lingering effects of the 2011 disaster. While the government and TEPCO insist on the safety of the release, the concerns of the fishing industry and neighboring countries underline the broader societal and environmental implications. This situation emphasizes the importance of stringent safety measures and transparent communication in managing the aftermath of nuclear disasters.