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Is It Okay to Discharge Contaminated Water into the Sea?

최종 수정일: 2023년 12월 21일

By: Somi An

Do you like the sea? I really like the sea. Doesn’t the summer sea cool just by looking at it? I also like things that come out of the sea. Sushi is my soul food. So, for me, the news these days is just confusing. Japan has announced that it will release Fukushima contaminated water into the sea as early as this summer. There is also a rehearsal for driving the discharge facility. Japan claims that it is safe to let the contaminated water flow into the sea because it has been treated as clean as possible. But someone also says that eating seafood would be dangerous. Who’s right? Can I eat my soul food as much as I want?

Let’s find out what Fukushima contaminated water is. During the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, a huge tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, when the cooling system was paralyzed. Eventually, the nuclear fuel rods in the tree reactors melted down. The molten nuclear fuel has melted away the surrounding devices, and there are still 880 tons of debris left. Heat is still generated in this mass, and in the process of cooling it down, the water contains radioactive substances such as cesium, strontium, ruthenium and tritium, creating contaminated water. These substances cause cancer when they enter the body above the threshold. Since the accident, 140 tons of contaminated water have been created every day, and 1,073 water tanks have been installed to contain it, but 97% of all tanks have already been filled, and the daily generation has recently been reduced to 90 tons, but the tank will be full early next year.

Then is the only way to treat this contaminated water the discharge is? The discharge to the sea costs 3.4 billion yen, about 32.1 billion won. The discharge to the atmosphere costs 330 billion won, 100 times more than that, and the underground burial costs more than 2.3 trillion won, 700 times more than that. Also, public opinion was very bad about air discharge, so the Japanese government decided to send contaminated water into the sea 2021, and that is now a very near future.

Then what is the impact on us if the contaminated water is released into the sea? Currently, the Japanese government and neighboring countries are competing over the concentration standard of seawater mixed with contaminated water. There is a big disagreement over how safe and dangerous radioactive substances are when dissolved in seawater. But there's also an argument that there's something else that's important. It can be dangerous if radioactive substances accumulate in the body over a long period of time. A professor argued that when comparing Fukushima and Korea's seawater, radioactive substances differ by 3.5 times, but when analyzing fish, it is about 20 times different, and that it should be reconsidered even now. In other words, fish and algae that are exposed to contaminated water have quite a lot of radioactive materials, and more radioactive materials can be accumulated in the human body after eating seafood that has been eaten for a long time.

Polluted water can be judged in various ways depending on what you see as a risk, and it is unprecedented to discharge more than 1.3 million tons of contaminated water into the sea, and scientific research on its environmental impact is not sure whether it is difficult to say whether it is safe or dangerous. In the case of tritium alone, there are 700,000 papers related to it, but there are only 130 papers dealing with the effects of it on DNA, and only 14 research papers dealing with the effects of cancer.

How should we approach a problem that scientifically cannot be said to be obvious? Since there are many things that we do not know about the environmental and health effects of radioactive materials yet, we think it is necessary to approach them carefully and look "conservative" within the "principle of prevention." Environmental pollution accidents are too difficult to deal with when they occur, so it is necessary to actively regulate and prepare in advance even if they are not uncertain and existing risks.

The issue of discharging contaminated water from nuclear accidents into the sea is also important, but there is an international agreement not to dump pollutants into the sea, and there are other ways, but the morality of the country is also questioned in that it is discharged for economic reasons. Since it is scientifically unknown what problems will occur, it seems necessary to actively prevent the discharge until the last minute and press for alternatives.

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