#AceNewsReport – Apr.13: The Japanese government insists the water will be treated to remove all radioactive materials except for tritium, which it said had a low impact on health.
Japan decides to dump treated Fukushima water, with low levels of radioactive tritium, into the ocean: ‘Contaminated water is currently being kept in 1000 tanks sprawling across the facility, but the plant’s operator TEPCO said by the end of next year the tanks and the site would be full, with no room to store any more’
The tritium wastewater will be released into the ocean over several decades starting in around two years.
It said that even if the full amount of tritium contained within the tanks was released in a single year, the impact would be no more than 1/1000th of the exposure impact of natural radiation in one year in Japan.
But for local fishermen who live and work around the destroyed plant, it’s the reputational damage of this decision they fear the most.
Distrust of TEPCO has also fuelled skepticism amongst locals and the decision is likely to anger Japan’s neighbours like South Korea.
It’s been 10 years since Japan’s worst nuclear accident, which was triggered by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the country and a massive tsunami that wiped out almost everything in its path.
When the tsunami hit the nuclear plant in 2011, it cut power and consequently cooling to three operational reactors.
The decommissioning is expected to take another 20-30 years, TEPCO said today.
What has happened to the water?
All of the water that touches the highly dangerous molten nuclear fuel contained within the destroyed reactors also becomes radioactive.
Whether it’s used as cooling for the destroyed reactors or comes in from ground or rainwater, it is collected and then run through a sophisticated processing network of pipes.
The water is treated to remove more than 60 different types of radioactive materials from it, but the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) doesn’t completely purify the water.
The radioactive element, tritium, remains inside all of the stored water, albeit at “low” levels, according to TEPCO.
The reason tritium remains is because it is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and hard to separate from water.
Why the ocean?
A panel of experts has recommended disposing of it in the ocean as the most practical option as opposed to releasing it into the air, which TEPCO said would be more difficult to monitor.
The ABC secured rare access to Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant earlier this year — and witness the ALPS system first hand.
TEPCO’s Yoshinori Takahashi said tritium was a weak form of radiation and that the water would be released in such limited quantities over such a long period.
By the end of next year, the tanks and the site will be full, and TEPCO cannot legally build more tanks outside of the facility.
It made the decision from the Japanese government increasingly pressing.
How safe is tritium?
Tritium is considered to be relatively harmless because it does not emit enough energy to penetrate human skin.
But when ingested it can raise cancer risks, a Scientific American article said in 2014.
Professor Hiroshi Tauchi from the Ibaraki University Graduate School of Science and Engineering was a member of the government’s expert panel that investigated the water release.
He said it was difficult to clearly say there was no impact from tritium, but that it was hard to tell the difference between natural concentrations at such low levels.
“What’s important is how we can minimise the level of exposure — if it exceeds a certain level, clearly there will be an effect, but if we can keep it a very low level, there is no visible effect scientifically,” he told the ABC.
“So I think you can say that there is hardly any effect — but there is no definite guarantee, so I think we need to think of a balance.”
He appreciated how sensitive the issue was but said he did not think the decommissioning problem should be passed on to future generations, with the risk of leakage from tanks.
Professor Tauchi believes the potential distrust of TEPCO and the government means a third party should monitor the release of the water.
In 2013, TEPCO said it withheld the fact that tainted water was leaking into the ocean because it did not want to worry the public until it was certain there was a problem.
In 2018, TEPCO admitted it had not filtered all dangerous materials out of the water, despite saying for years they had been removed.
“People’s concern will not be eliminated unless there’s trust,” Professor Tauchi said.
“It needs a third party that has proper technique to measure tritium and it’s very important that it discloses the information.
“Without that, I cannot confidently say that it could be kept under the required standards.”
What has the reaction been?
Haruo Ono has been fishing in Fukushima’s waters for 50 years.
Mr Ono can only go out to fish a few days per week because of restrictions imposed by the government, which are designed to prevent Fukushima fish from being left unsold at markets and to shore up prices.
The nuclear meltdown destroyed his livelihood and since 2011, he said it had been an extraordinary challenge to convince people that Fukushima fish were safe.
Although most fishermen are receiving compensation payments from TEPCO to cover their revenue shortfalls, he fears that if contaminated water is released into the ocean, it will finish off the industry for good.
“They say it’s OK to release tritium, but what do consumers think? We can’t sell fish because the consumers say no,” he told me earlier this year.
Last October, the head of Japan’s fisheries unions said releasing the water would have a “catastrophic impact” on the industry.
China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday criticised the Japanese government’s decision, calling it “extremely irresponsible”.
In a statement on the ministry’s website, a spokesman said Japan should refrain from initiating the discharge until it had consulted and reached agreement with all stakeholder countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
China reserved the right to respond further to the release of contaminated water, the spokesman said in the statement.
The United States noted that Japan has worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its handling of the site since the meltdown in three reactors a decade ago.
“In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards,” the US Department of State said in a statement on its website.
How will TEPCO actually release the water?
TEPCO will then dilute the water until levels fall below regulatory limits, before pumping it directly into the ocean from the coastal site.
Water containing tritium is routinely released from nuclear plants around the world and releasing the Fukushima water to the ocean is supported by regulatory authorities.
It will build a facility under the regulatory authority’s safety requirements in the next few years.
#AceNewsDesk report ……….Published: Apr.13: 2021:
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