Japan is expected to start flushing 1.25 million tonnes of wastewater from the embattled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean this year, as part of a $76-billion project to decommission the facility.
- Currently, the radioactive water is treated in a complex filtration process that removes most of the radioactive elements, but some remain, including tritium – deemed harmful to humans only in very large doses.
What are the concerns with this move?
- No threshold level– There is no known threshold below which radiation can be considered safe.
- Health impacts– Any discharge of radioactive materials will increase the risk of cancer and other known health impacts to those who are exposed.
- Effect on marine resource– Experts expect the affected water to poison the fish.
- South Korea banned seafood imported from around Fukushima from 2013.
- Presence of radionuclides– TEPCO hasn’t removed tritium from the water. Tritium is easily absorbed by the bodies of living creatures and rapidly distributed via blood.
- In 2018, it was reported that there were other radionuclides including isotopes of ruthenium and plutonium in the treated water that could persist for longer in the marine creatures and on the seafloor.
- Longer storage – The Japanese government can store the water for longer and then discharge it as tritium’s half-life (time it takes for its quantity to be halved through radioactive decay) is 12-13 years.
- The quantity of any other radioactive isotopes present in the water will also decrease in this time so that the water could be less radioactive at the time of discharge.
- Tanks in uninhabitable land – The tanks to hold the water can be situated in the land around the Fukushima facility which was declared to be uninhabitable by the Japanese government.
- Discharge into the sea – In 2020, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials said the discharge would be technically feasible and would allow the timeline objective to be achieved.