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Fukushima Wastewater Release - Are We Safe?

최종 수정일: 4월 28일

By: Sooa Hong


Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters


On 24 August 2023, Japan released the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's first phase of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Discharging over 7,800 tons, the event sparked mass demonstrations from both domestic and international climate activists due to concerns regarding the nuclear-contaminated wastewater release. However, despite raging opposition and public concerns, the Japanese government will continue releasing contaminated wastewater into the ocean.


In March 2011, Japan suffered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster when a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima power plant’s reactors. Exposed to immense amounts of water, the plant coming into contact with melted fuel debris led the water to become contaminated with radioactive nuclides such as iodine-131, cesium-134, cesium-137, and strontium-90.


Over 500,000 tons of untreated wastewater accidentally escaped into the Pacific Ocean right after the incident, and environmentalists feared its damaging impacts on the oceans. The radioactivity of these radioactive nuclides exceeded legal limits, and international laws sought to bind the Japanese government from releasing any more. Since then, the contaminated water has been stored in storage units that hold about 1.3 million tons of water, enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Even then, Japan struggled with the large amounts of the contaminated water, stating that their storage facilities were maxed out.


In these sites, the untreated wastewater was “treated,” using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to eliminate the radioactivity. Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has been filtering the contaminated water by removing isotopes, leaving only a radioactive isotope of hydrogen named tritium, a hard element to separate. Research revealed that even after undergoing ALPS, radioactive levels are still high. Tepco proposed a further dilution process for the solution, using seawater to bring the radioactivity to a lower concentration. This will continue until the contamination levels fall below international regulatory limits before discharging into the Pacific Ocean.


Tritium is known to be a relatively harmless isotope because its radiation is not energetic enough to penetrate through human skin. According to a Scientific American article from 2014, it can lead to cancer risks only if one is inordinately exposed to the substance. However, water containing tritium is already being released from nuclear plants internationally, which gives Japan the liberty to discharge Fukushima water as well.


In 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a review report that Japan’s Fukushima wastewater contamination levels have finally reached within the boundaries of international safety standards. Discharging diluted ALPS-treated water into the sea was viewed as “safe” by Japan and scientific organizations. The IAEA agreed to Japan’s plans in July, stating that since it met international standards, the impact on people and the environment would be “negligible.” However, environmental activists disagree. Greenpeace argued that not all possible consequences of the action have been fully assessed, and voiced concerns about the harmful biological impacts Fukushima wastewater will bring to ocean life and impact future generations.


Japan released that the Fukushima wastewater discharge process will take more than 30 years because new contaminated wastewater is constantly being formed and the diluting process with sea water is slow. Regarding the issue, countries are expressing serious concerns that Japan’s violation of some of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s laws will cause other nations to feel liberated to ignore international laws and take no responsibility for any environmental damages their decisions can bring.


So are we safe from the radioactive wastewater Japan released eight months ago? The consequences are yet to be determined, but the event might have spurred other countries to make choices that could potentially harm the environment.



References

Fukushima's Nuclear Wastewaters Have Been Released. Now What? | Insight | Full Episode. CNA Insider, 2023.

Huaxia. "S. Koreans condemn Japan's nuke wastewater dumping decision." Xinhua Net, 22 Aug. 2023, english.news.cn/20230822/469e03bc54974659aa807aa60167ea64/c.html. Accessed 28 Apr. 2024.

Reuters. "Fukushima: Why is Japan releasing water and is it safe?" Reuters, 24 Aug. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/how-japan-will-release-treated-water-fukushima-nuclear-plant-2023-08-24/. Accessed 28 Apr. 2024.

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