Japan — More than three-quarters of a million tons of radioactive water is about to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean if the chairmen of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) have their way, Japanese media reported over the weekend. All they require now is final government approval.
“The decision has already been made,” TEPCO chairman Takashi Kawamura told the media, according to the Japan Times.
As of July 6, about 777,000 tons of tritium-tainted water is being stored in about 580 tanks at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The water, which is constantly injected into leaking reactor No. 1 to cool it since it was damaged by a tsunami in 2011, is then filtered to remove radioactive materials. The complex filtering system can eliminate everything but tritium.
This has left the Japanese government with a problem. They can’t go on filling up tanks forever. Something has to be done with the radioactive water. A government panel is currently coming to a decision on the issue, and simply dumping the water into the sea is an option on the table.
TEPCO chairman Kawamura is just waiting on the green light. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state,” he told the media.
Kawamura certainly has the support of NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka, who’s been urging the TEPCO boss to make the move. Tanaka has been critical of Kawamura in the past, saying he should be more proactive in his handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
“An operator lacking the will to take the initiative does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors,” he said recently at a special meeting with TEPCO’s top management.
According to the Japan Times, Kawamura “feels emboldened to have the support of the NRA chairman.”
Tritium itself is said to be relatively harmless, and discharge of tritium-tainted water into the ocean is standard operating procedure at nuclear power plants. Oceanographer Simon Boxall spoke to The Guardian on the tritium issue last year, saying:
“In the broad scale of things, if they do end up putting the material in the Pacific, it will have minimal effect on an ocean basin scale.”
But local fishermen say the actual harmfulness of tritium isn’t the issue. What’s paramount is the perception people will have when they hear of hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water being released into the ocean. In short, such a move would make customers question the safety of their catches, which would thereby affect their livelihoods.
“Releasing (tritium) into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumors, making our efforts all for naught,” Kanji Tachiya, who heads a fishermen cooperative, told the Japan Times.
And Aileen Mioko-Smith of Green Action Japan says there is even more to consider here. “They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted,” she told The Telegraph, “but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas.”
Furthermore, says Mioko-Smith, those in charge of managing the Fukushima nuclear crisis have had plenty of time to come up with solutions and that the “out of sight, out of mind” approach is unacceptable:
“This accident happened more than six years ago and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it into the ocean.”
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