Japan is expected to start pumping more than a million tons of treated water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on August 24, a process that will take decades.
The water was distilled after being contaminated by contact with fuel rods in the reactor, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 2011.
The site’s reservoirs now hold around 1.3 million tonnes of radioactive water, enough to fill 500 Olympic swimming pools. Here is how the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) plans to handle this problem:
JAPAN TO DUMP FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR WASTEWATER INTO OCEAN ON THURSDAY
What is Japan’s Water Liberation Plan?
Tepco filtered the contaminated water to remove the isotopes, leaving only tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to separate. Tepco will dilute the water until tritium levels fall below regulatory limits before pumping it into the ocean from the shore site.
Tritium-containing water is routinely discharged from nuclear power plants around the world, and regulatory authorities support Fukushima’s water treatment in this way.
Tritium is considered relatively harmless because its radiation is not energetic enough to penetrate human skin. When ingested at levels above those in discharged water, it can increase cancer risks, according to a 2014 Scientific American article.
Removal of the water will take decades, with continued filtering and dilution, alongside the planned decommissioning of the plant.
Is the water safe?
Japan and scientific organizations say the discharged water is safe, but environmental activists say not all possible impacts have been studied. Japan says it must start releasing the water when the storage tanks are full.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, gave the green light to the plan in July, saying it met international standards and the impact it would would have on people and the environment was “negligible”.
Greenpeace said on Tuesday that the radiological risks had not been fully assessed and that the biological impacts of tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90 and iodine-129 – released with the water – “were ignored”.
JAPAN COMMITS TO SUPPORT FISHERIES DURING FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR WASTE PROCESS FOR DECADES IN THE COUNTRY
The filtering process will remove strontium-90 and iodine-129, and the concentration of carbon-14 in the contaminated water is well below its regulatory discharge standard, according to documents from Tepco and the Japanese government.
Japan said tritium levels in the water will be lower than those considered safe by World Health Organization standards.
“In the meantime, it is not the practice of any country to drink water discharged from nuclear facilities,” Japan’s mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency said last week.
The government will take “appropriate action, including immediate suspension of discharge” if unusually high concentrations of radioactive material are detected, the document says. The South Korean government has concluded from its own study that the water discharge meets international standards and has declared compliance with the IAEA assessment.
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How did people react?
Tepco has engaged with fishing communities and other stakeholders and promotes agricultural, fishing and forestry products in stores and restaurants to reduce any damage to the reputation of products from the region. .
Fishermen’s unions in Fukushima have urged the government for years not to release the water, arguing it would hurt work to restore the damaged reputation of their fisheries.
Masanobu Sakamoto, the head of the National Federation of Fishery Cooperative Associations, said on Monday the group understood the release could be scientifically safe but still feared reputational damage.
Neighboring countries have also expressed concern. China was the most vocal, calling the Japanese plan irresponsible, unpopular and one-sided. China is the largest importer of Japanese seafood.
Shortly after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake damaged the Fukushima power plant, China banned imports of food and agricultural products from five Japanese prefectures. China later expanded its ban to cover 10 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The latest import restrictions were imposed in July after the IAEA approved Japan’s plan to discharge treated water.