The operators of the ruined Fukushima nuclear power are about to dump huge quantities of contaminated radioactive water directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Japan’s environment minister has stated that over 1 million tonnes of radioactive water has been accumulating at the plant since March 2011 when it was hit by a huge tsunami. The natural disaster triggered multiple nuclear meltdowns and subsequently displaced over 30,000 residents after an evacuation order was given.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the operator of the Fukushima plant has been vocal about its struggles to deal with the buildup of groundwater at the site, which becomes contaminated with radioactive isotopes when the water is used to prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting.
Tepco has been doing all they can to remove radionuclides from the excess groundwater but the technology to remove tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – does not exist.
Tritium does exist in nature, albeit in very minute amounts and coastal nuclear plants often dump water contaminated with the isotope into the ocean.
Tepco admitted last year that the water in its tanks contained other contaminants, not just tritium.
To date, more than 1 million tonnes of radioactive water is contained in nearly 1,000 tanks at the Fukushima plant, but the operators warn they will soon run out of tank space. Estimates suggest there will be no more tank space by mid 2022.
Yoshiaki Harada told a news briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday:
“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it. The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.”
The method of disposal of the water will not be finalized until the Japanese government receives a detailed report from a panel of experts. A number of other options are also on the table, including vaporising the liquid or storing it on land for an extended period of time.
Harada did not comment on how much water would need to be released into the ocean.
A recent study concucted by Hiroshi Miyano, the head of a committee studying the decommissioning of Fukushima at the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, said it could take 17 years to discharge the water after it has been diluted to a point where radioactive substances meet the plant’s safety standards.
Local fishermen are said to be in outrage over the proposals to discharge the liquid into the ocean after spending the best part of 8 years trying to rebuild their decimated industry.
South Korea has also raised concerns over the environmental impact it would have and the perception of its own seafood. In August of this year, Seoul summoned a senior Japanese embassy official to explain how Fukushima Daiichi’s waste water would be discharged.
Tensions between the two countries have been rising in recent months following compensation disputes over Koreans forced to work in Japanese factories during WWII.
Japan is also under international pressure to address their radioactive water problem before Tokyo hosts the Olympics and Paralympics next summer.
During the city’s bid for the games six years ago, Shinzo Abe, the country’s prime minister, assured the international community that the situation was “under control”.