Decision to dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster site into the ocean sparks alarm

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In mid-October, the Japanese authorities introduced plans to dump water contaminated with radioactive isotopes from a nuclear disaster site in Fukushima, sparking alarm throughout the world.

Japanese information service Kyodo reported on October 16 that the Japanese authorities had introduced that it will authorize the launch of about one million tonnes of radioactive water into the ocean from the Daiichi nuclear energy set up in Fukushima prefecture.

Following the announcement, Greenpeace revealed a report stating the contaminated water contained “dangerous” ranges of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope that may damage human DNA. Amidst considerations about the influence of the contaminated water on the atmosphere and human well being, nevertheless, some specialists identified that it was tough—if not unattainable—to assess the true danger with out figuring out extra about the authorities’s plans.

Fukushima’s economically devastated fishing sector opposes any form of plan that features ocean disposal, which could contaminate their catch. Japan’s maritime neighbour South Korea expressed “serious concern” as nicely. On the different aspect of the Pacific Ocean, the information alarmed some locals on Vancouver Island, on Canada’s Pacific coast, some 7,300 km from Fukushima:

Following a large and harmful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the Daiichi energy advanced on Japan’s Pacific coast, about 250 km north of Tokyo, was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The nuclear accident destroyed three of the four reactors at the facility, leading to the launch of radioactive supplies that contaminated the surrounding communities, forcing mass evacuations.

About 1.25 million tonnes of contaminated water is at the moment saved at the decommissioned Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility, and the quantity will increase by about 170 tons a day, accumulating quite a lot of radioactive parts which are doubtlessly harmful to human well being. The water is a combination of intentionally injected cooling water and groundwater, which accumulates as the water flows into and thru the reactor constructing and turbine constructing that have been destroyed throughout the Tohoku earthquake and the subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011.

While some groundwater upstream from the plant and from contamination is pumped straight into the ocean, contaminated water is diverted into massive storage tanks that now dominate the sprawling Fukushima nuclear advanced. Preventing the water from seeping into the ocean has up to now been considered one of the largest challenges confronted by each the Japanese authorities and the energy utility that owns the Fukushima facility.

February 2020 report by a authorities committee in contrast and evaluated a number of potential options for eliminating the contaminated water at the Fukushima site. Solutions included injecting the contaminated water into geologic formations (地層注入) straight beneath the Fukushima advanced; evaporating the saved water, leaving the contaminants behind (水蒸気放出); and burying the water underground in vats or different containers (地下埋設).

In the paper, the committee concluded that disposal at sea (海洋放出) was the least expensive and the most technically possible resolution. Based on that suggestion, all through 2020 the Japanese authorities has discussed the chance of dumping not less than one million tonnes of water in the ocean. They haven’t but launched particulars, nevertheless, about how or the place the water could be dumped.

Water tanks holding contaminated water in entrance of the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi.” Photo Credit: Susanna Loof / IAEA. Image license: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

“Ultimately there has been no description of what method or how those isotopes would be deposited or dumped in the ocean,” stated Jay Cullen in an interview with Global Voices. “Will the water be released from shore? Pumped to depth? Taken by tankers out into the ocean? It’s not clear whether it’s even legal to dump in the ocean under the London Protocol.”  Cullen is a marine chemist, oceanographer and professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Earth & Ocean Sciences on Vancouver Island.

The contaminated water incorporates radioactive contaminants together with cesium isotopes, cobalt, carbon-14 and tritium, that are extremely difficult to take away from wastewater, Cullen stated. All can doubtlessly be dangerous to human well being, however the danger is dependent upon quite a lot of elements which are both unknown or haven’t been disclosed by the Japanese authorities and the energy utility in control of the cleanup and is due to this fact tough to assess.

“It’s the equivalent of saying lead is bad for you, but that, of course, depends on how much lead you’re exposed to,” stated Cullen. In order to assess danger, Cullen stated, it is necessary to ask “how much of an isotope goes into the environment, what its activity is in the environment, and what its exposure is to human beings.”

On Twitter, Cullen additionally identified that historic human actions equivalent to nuclear weapons testing have already launched considerably greater quantities of some radioactive contaminants into the atmosphere that persist to today:

There is a steadiness to be struck between on-site storage and the potential for uncontrolled launch, versus managed launch, Cullen stated.

“Tritium has a half-life of 12 years,” stated Cullen. The danger diminishes with time, and “has to be balanced with the possibility and probability of the storage tanks accidentally failing, or the occurrence of another large megathrust earthquake where there is uncontrolled release.”

Another main problem with assessing the danger of ocean disposal, stated Cullen, is that there’s little understanding up to now of what sorts of radioactive isotopes are saved in the tanks and, in flip, the danger they pose to the atmosphere and human well being.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.