The government of Japan looks likely to proceed with a controlled ocean-release of radioactive wastewater associated with the Fukushima disaster, a move criticised by environmental groups in neighbouring countries.
A draft report on how to dispose of treated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, released 31 December, includes two methods, narrowed down from five that had been under consideration.
Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has stored radioactive cooling water in tanks at the site. It was announced in September 2019 that the utility will run out of storage space in 2022 and the environment minister revealed that water would be released into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that about 80 percent of the stored water would need to be treated prior to any release and purification treatment is ongoing.
Favoured alternatives now are releasing the water into the ocean after diluting it, releasing it through evaporation and a combination of both options. Releasing treated water into the ocean after dilution, at a level within the national safety standard, is already widely practiced at nuclear power plants in Japan.
The report notes that evaporation tests were proven to work in past events. One such event was the 1979 core reactor meltdown at the Three Mile Island. “It took around two years to get rid of 87,000 tons of radioactive titrated water”.
The plans have come under fire by nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany Shaun Burnie: “This is not just a domestic issue, and the government of Japan must explain to the international community — including its nearest neighbours in Asia — why it advocates for the water discharge into the Pacific Ocean or release to the atmosphere. … Today’s development only makes Greenpeace more determined to stop these radioactive discharges”.
South Korean and Japanese civic activists have also condemned the ocean-release option, describing the plan as “a serious crime” that will deal a serious blow to the ocean’s ecosystems and human beings.