The Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, has indicated support for the Japan government’s proposal to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific ocean.
“The Agency welcomes the progress made by Japan towards reaching a decision on this matter,” Grossi said during a 26 Februry visit to the facility. But he stressed it was up to the government to decide how to proceed. “Once a decision is taken on the way forward, the IAEA would be ready to assist in its implementation, for example in radiation monitoring,” he said.
Currently, treated, but still radioactive water, is accumulating at about 170 tons per day and is being treated to remove most contaminants. There is sufficient on-site capacity at the damaged Fukushima No. 1 power plant to store the treated water at least until mid-2022.
Safe disposal methods being discussed include releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean or allowing it to evaporate, both of which the government says will have minimal effect on human health. The IAEA supports that either release method is fully acceptable under international standards.
In February, an expert panel recommended the ocean release but local fishermen are objecting, fearing the possibility of a consumer ban on locally caught seafood. In addition, South Korea remains concerned about the overall environmental impact of any release. There is already a ban on the importation of Japanese seafood.
The IAEA reassured local workers and journalists at the site 27 February that either method of release was acceptable and supported the expert panel’s recommendation as it was based on sound methodology, using a systematic approach. (Japan Times)
The radioactive water includes water used for cooling the plant as well as groundwater and rain that seeps into the plant. Most of the radioactive isotopes have been removed by an advanced filtration system, but small traces of relatively non-toxic tritium remain.
Grossi emphasised that there are many technical challenges in devising any release. He underscored that the would have to include disciplined monitoring and evaluation before, during and after any release. In addition, the process must include dissemination of information about the process and test results.
While offering the agency’s assistance at whatever level the government and/or Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) would require, he also underscored the importance of safety first.