Japan is releasing Fukushima radioactive water into the ocean, but is it safe?

Japan is realising radioactive water into the seas


Tokyo's plan to dispose of more than 1.2 million tons of water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the ocean received a major boost on Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally approved it, saying the method of disposal was "consistent" with international safety standards. The IAEA report also concluded that the discharged water would have "a negligible radiological impact" on the environment.


The Japanese government and the operator of the plant that crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami welcomed the IAEA's endorsement.


While a majority of Japanese citizens appear to have reached the conclusion that the water has been cleansed of virtually all radioactivity and that discharging it into the Pacific Ocean is therefore the most appropriate course of action, there are still many who disagree, particularly in neighboring countries.


South Korean opposition politicians were planning a sit-in at the country's National Assembly on Thursday to protest Tokyo's decision. The Democratic Party is also planning a rally outside the parliament building on Saturday.


NATURE AND ENVIRONMENTJAPAN

Japan: Is it safe to release Fukushima water into the ocean?

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

07/06/2023July 6, 2023

The Japanese government is ramping up its campaign to convince the nation and its neighbors that the treated radioactive water poses no danger to humans or the environment.


Tanks containing water from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are seen at the power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture

Environmental groups have slammed Japan's plan to release water from the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the oceanImage: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

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Tokyo's plan to dispose of more than 1.2 million tons of water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the ocean received a major boost on Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally approved it, saying the method of disposal was "consistent" with international safety standards. The IAEA report also concluded that the discharged water would have "a negligible radiological impact" on the environment.


The Japanese government and the operator of the plant that crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami welcomed the IAEA's endorsement.


While a majority of Japanese citizens appear to have reached the conclusion that the water has been cleansed of virtually all radioactivity and that discharging it into the Pacific Ocean is therefore the most appropriate course of action, there are still many who disagree, particularly in neighboring countries.


South Korean opposition politicians were planning a sit-in at the country's National Assembly on Thursday to protest Tokyo's decision. The Democratic Party is also planning a rally outside the parliament building on Saturday.


Japan's plan to release Fukushima wastewater raises alarm


02:04

China expresses its anger

The Chinese ambassador to Tokyo, Wu Jianghao, underlined Beijing's opposition to the plan at a press conference on Tuesday, saying "it is unprecedented for contaminated water from a nuclear accident to be released into the sea."


Wu pointed out that China has banned imports of all foodstuffs from 10 prefectures in northeastern Japan that were most seriously impacted by the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant after the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, suggesting that the import ban might be extended to cover the rest of the country.


"What actions China will take and how we will do so in the next stage depends on developments with Japan's discharge plan," he said.

Environmental groups have also been outspoken against the plan, with protesters in Seoul on Wednesday demanding that the IAEA's report that endorses the Japanese government's plan be withdrawn, and Greenpeace accusing Tokyo of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


NATURE AND ENVIRONMENTJAPAN

Japan: Is it safe to release Fukushima water into the ocean?

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

07/06/2023July 6, 2023

The Japanese government is ramping up its campaign to convince the nation and its neighbors that the treated radioactive water poses no danger to humans or the environment.


Tanks containing water from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are seen at the power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture

Environmental groups have slammed Japan's plan to release water from the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the oceanImage: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

ADVERTISEMENT



Tokyo's plan to dispose of more than 1.2 million tons of water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the ocean received a major boost on Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally approved it, saying the method of disposal was "consistent" with international safety standards. The IAEA report also concluded that the discharged water would have "a negligible radiological impact" on the environment.


The Japanese government and the operator of the plant that crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami welcomed the IAEA's endorsement.


While a majority of Japanese citizens appear to have reached the conclusion that the water has been cleansed of virtually all radioactivity and that discharging it into the Pacific Ocean is therefore the most appropriate course of action, there are still many who disagree, particularly in neighboring countries.


South Korean opposition politicians were planning a sit-in at the country's National Assembly on Thursday to protest Tokyo's decision. The Democratic Party is also planning a rally outside the parliament building on Saturday.


Japan's plan to release Fukushima wastewater raises alarm


02:04

China expresses its anger

The Chinese ambassador to Tokyo, Wu Jianghao, underlined Beijing's opposition to the plan at a press conference on Tuesday, saying "it is unprecedented for contaminated water from a nuclear accident to be released into the sea."


Wu pointed out that China has banned imports of all foodstuffs from 10 prefectures in northeastern Japan that were most seriously impacted by the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant after the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, suggesting that the import ban might be extended to cover the rest of the country.


"What actions China will take and how we will do so in the next stage depends on developments with Japan's discharge plan," he said.


Environmental concerns

Environmental groups have also been outspoken against the plan, with protesters in Seoul on Wednesday demanding that the IAEA's report that endorses the Japanese government's plan be withdrawn, and Greenpeace accusing Tokyo of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Japan Fukushima | 12 Jahre nach dem GAU

The fishermen of Fukushima 12 years after the nuclear disaster

The Japanese energy company TEPCO wants to discharge more than one million tons of treated cooling water from the decommissioned nuclear power plant into the sea. Does this mean the end of fishing in the region?

Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

The old man and the sea


Morning is already dawning as 71-year-old fisherman Haruo Ono unloads his catch at the small port of Shinchimachi. Ono, a third-generation fisherman, has been putting out to sea for half a century from Shinchimachi, just 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where one of the world's worst nuclear disasters occurred in 2011.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Haruo Ono, a 71-year-old fisherman, works on his boat at dawn. 

Fishing and surviving


While cleaning noodle fish, Ono remembers the day that changed everything: On March 11, 2011, a magnitude nine earthquake triggered huge tsunami waves on Japan's east coast. The fisherman survived on his boat, but his home on land was destroyed. He lost a younger brother. The tsunami also hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, triggering explosions and a meltdown.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Fishing in contaminated waters


The radiation released during the reactor disaster brought the fishing industry in the region to a complete standstill. After 12 years, there are signs of a slight recovery, and fish prices are slowly picking up again. Ono finds the plans of the energy company TEPCO to discharge the contaminated water into the sea again "unbearable." "We have to go back to square one again," he fears.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Watery future


The countless water tanks on the site of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are a bone of contention. According to the authorities, the tanks must be removed before reconstruction. The water was mainly used to cool the reactors after the disaster.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Dispute over cooling water


A TEPCO employee holds a sample of treated water up to the camera. The water is treated, filtered and diluted. TEPCO and the government claim it is now safe. However, it contains traces of tritium. Although the radioactive isotope is considered relatively harmless, fishermen fear that discharging the water into the sea will once again destroy their business.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Everything under control?


Energy company TEPCO and the Tokyo government cite radiation testing standards that are more stringent than those of other countries that also discharge treated water. The release was also approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "We have the equipment to make the water safe," TEPCO spokesman Tomohiko Mayuzum told Reuters news agency.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Fish farming in the decommissioned nuclear power plant


To prove how harmless the treated water is, TEPCO is breeding flounder in tanks at the decommissioned Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Toshihiro Wada of Fukushima University can understand the fishermen's concerns: TEPCO's announcement to drain the contaminated water is "unfortunate" for the region's just-recovering fisheries, he said.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

A matter of survival


Before the sale, fisherman Haruo Ono pours his catch into a water tank. He is angry with TEPCO: "The ocean isn’t a garbage can," he says in an interview with the Reuters news agency and asks: "Why release water into the Fukushima ocean, why not Tokyo or Osaka?" The people of the region have already suffered enough, he says, and now they are being made to suffer even more.


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Creative reconstruction


Fisherman Ono on the spot where his house used to stand. After the tsunami, the area was turned into a park. Even though his new home is further inland, the 71-year old will be "working at sea" until his death. His outlook for for the future of fishing is bleak. "What about the kids in primary and junior school?," he asks. "It’s way too unstable for them to make a living from this."


Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

9 images

Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general of the Toyo-based Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, echoes concern over the release of the water and said that a number of alternative solutions were available and feasible for Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled plant.


"We disagree strongly with this decision, and we believe there were many better options available to the government," he told DW. "There are no reasons why more tanks could not have been constructed at the site, underground reservoirs could have been constructed and better treatment systems could have been introduced to remove more radionuclides," he added.


"Instead, they have chosen the option that is the easiest and cheapest," he said. "I think this was always the plan as releasing the water was always going to be less costly than the alternatives."


Matsukubo said the Japanese government is using the IAEA's expression of support to push ahead with the release of the water, almost certainly starting before the end of the summer, despite having no clear roadmap for the ultimate decommissioning of the plant.


"TEPCO has been saying that releasing the water is critical to the overall decommissioning plan, but there has never been a detailed schedule for stabilizing and decommissioning the power station, so why is this necessary?" he asked.

Matsukubo also questioned the independence of the IAEA, pointing out that it is funded by nuclear power-producing countries and is essentially tasked with promoting atomic energy. Given the failures of Japan's nuclear sector, not least at the Fukushima plant, questions must also be asked over the veracity of information being provided by TEPCO and the Japanese government, he added.


"The government says the ALPS [Advanced Liquid Processing System] is removing the different radionuclides from the water so it can be diluted and then released into the ocean. But there has been no independent testing of the water, so how can we be sure?"


A report issued by TEPCO in early June shows that more than 70% of the water due to be released does not meet legal standards for decontamination from radiation, even after being treated with the ALPS system. The company played down concerns at the time, saying the water would go through the cleansing process until it met the required standards.


Nevertheless, more than 12 years after the world's second-worst nuclear disaster, the Japanese people are hoping that releasing the water from storage tanks at the site will be another landmark in the protracted decommissioning process — which is expected to take at least 40 years and will require technology to safety collect and remove nuclear fuel that has yet to be developed.


"Local people and the fishermen of northeastern Japan have consistently been against this plan as they expect it will seriously impact their businesses and way of life, but elsewhere in Japan the feeling is that they have reached capacity for storing more water at the site and that there are few good choices left," said Hiromi Murakami, a professor of politics at the Tokyo campus of Temple University.


She pointed out that TEPCO still has a lot of work to do restore public trust, "and there will always be questions over the close ties between Japan's political and business worlds, but this is the situation we are in now," she said. "We have to hope that this really is the best course of action."


Originally published: https://amp.dw.com/en/japan-is-it-safe-to-release-fukushima-water-into-the-ocean/a-66136674

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