Japanese authorities and the United Nations nuclear watchdog have deemed the process, which is expected to take more than three decades, safe. But the plan faces opposition from the Japanese fishing industry and neighboring countries.
Is it safe to discharge water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant?
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised on Tuesday that the release of the treated water would be carried out safely and its impact closely monitored. Japanese authorities have described it as a necessary step in the dismantling of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant some 12 years after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the collapse of three nuclear reactors.
After a two-year review, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced in July that Japan’s approach was “consistent with relevant international safety standards”. The IAEA, which has now opened an office at the plant, said Tuesday he would remain on site to assess the safety of the release over time.
“At any other nuclear site in the world, this would be considered a ‘routine’ discharge of treated wastewater with very low levels of radioactivity,” said Jim Smith, professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth at the United Kingdom.
Other scientists, including a panel viewed by 18 Pacific island countries, have warned they did not see enough information to support the security of the release. The possible impact on the ocean, they added, has not been fully examined.
Jacques Lochard, former vice-president of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, an independent body Advisory body, describes Japan’s drainage system as “very efficient”. However, he added “there hasn’t really been any meaningful consultation with local people” – an issue he said was not too late to address.
What impact could water have on marine life?
The IAEA concluded that the plan for “controlled and gradual releases of treated water into the sea” would have “negligible radiological impact” on people and the environment.
Bob Richmond, a research professor at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, said radionuclide contamination in sewage could be transferred from down the food web through small organisms. like phytoplankton to the largest, like tuna.
These radionuclides then accumulate over time, eventually reaching levels high enough to damage DNA and RNA cells if ingested by seafood, such as oysters and lobsters, Richmond said. . It could trigger long-term cancer problems, he added.
“We cannot continue to use the ocean as the ultimate dumping ground for everything we don’t want on earth without serious consequences,” Richmond said.
Richmond warned that the impacts of Japan’s decision will be felt first in Japanese coastal communities and then around the world through ocean currents, ocean life and plastic transport.
“Radionuclides will not stay within Japan’s borders. They will spread across the Pacific and eventually around the world,” he said. “The consequences will appear over time and not immediately.”
Despite these assurances from the Japanese government and the IAEA, the fishing industry and environmental groups have urged Tokyo to abandon the plan, raising questions about its consequences.
Greenpeace East Asia criticized the discharge plan Tuesday, saying so ignores the scientific evidence and the concerns of fishing operators.
Ahead of the Fukushima fishing season in September, the fishing industry is concerned about potential damage to the reputation of its products, which still carry the stigma of radioactive exposure. “Scientific security and security from a social point of view are different,” said the president of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations. said this week.
The Japanese government said it would monitor water quality after the release, promising compensation to offset the impact on fishing operators’ livelihoods.
The release has also been met with objections from officials and protesters in South Korea, even as the South Korean government says the plan meets international standards if the water is treated as intended. .
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said he opposed the decision, pledging to “immediately activate import control measures” against Japanese foods, he said in an online press release. statement Tuesday.
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, called the decision “selfish and irresponsible” at a press conference on Tuesday.
“The ocean sustains humanity. It’s not a sewer for Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water,” Wenbin said. said.
How is the water treated and what is Tritium?
The water passes through a filtration system designed to eliminate radioactive elements. To reduce concentrations of tritium, a radioactive material that is difficult to separate from water, authorities will also dilute wastewater before discharging it into the ocean.
Japanese authorities say the tritium concentration will drop to background ocean levels after dilution. The plan, due to start on Thursday, involves discharging treated water at a maximum rate of 132,000 gallons per day through an underwater tunnel off the coast of Japan. The IAEA will monitor the release process.
The amount of tritium in wastewater discharges is expected to be about seven times lower than the World Health Organization’s drinking water limit for tritium, Smith said. People are exposed to tritium in small amounts in tap water and in the rain.
“There will be traces of other radioactivity in the release because the processing is not 100% perfect, like at other nuclear sites around the world,” he said, adding that these “will be at insignificant levels”.
Julia Mio Inuma, Min Joo Kim and Michelle Ye Hee Lee contributed to this report.