Nuclear experts all over the world are condemning the Japanese government’s possible plan to release radioactive water from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean.
The supposed move is raising big concerns especially in Korea, Japan’s closest neighbor, as the discharged water will directly influence its marine life, territorial waters ecosystem and in due course the people themselves.
It is reported that as of Aug. 22, approximately 1.1 million tons of contaminated water is being stored in 977 tanks at the decommissioned power plant in Fukushima, which was destroyed by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. The Japanese government said recently it will only build more facilities through 2020 which will bring the total stored volume to 1.37 million tons.
Reportedly, all storage facilities are projected to be filled by August 2020 implying that there will be no more tanks to hold the 170 tons of radiation-contaminated water created daily.
Tokyo has remained quiet on how it will manage the excess radioactive water, not giving any clear answers to the international community. The prospect of discharging it into the sea was raised lately after Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at the German branch of the environmental group Greenpeace, cautioned in August that Japan could dump over 1 million tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific.
Since that warning, Japanese government officials have said that almost all the radioactivity has been removed from the water except for tritium which as per them, relatively nonhazardous, but experts disagree pointing its role in causing cancer and fetal deformities.
In a recent interview, Former Japanese Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada said that there was no other option other than to dilute the contaminated water by dumping it into in the sea for disposal although Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed Harada’s remarks were his personal opinion and the Japanese government had not made any decision.
However, Burnie believes this was only the “cheapest” option.
Burnie said during an email interview with The Korea Times, “This is the principal reason. They do not want to pay the full costs of storing and processing the contaminated water, including the removal of radioactive tritium. For these reasons, in 2016, the Ministry of Economy Task Force on the water turned down the options offered by various companies to develop tritium removal technology.”
Kim Ik-Jung, a former medical professor at Dongguk University who has served as a member of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission here, concurred that discharging the contaminated water into the sea was undoubtedly the cheapest and fastest way to get rid of it, but also the most dangerous.
Kim explained, “There is another option to deal with radioactive water. Japan can keep it in the tanks until the radiation level becomes low enough. But this takes time and money. It will take about 300 years until it is okay to discharge the water”.
Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University in Japan, thinks that the Japanese government will go ahead and release the radiation-contaminated water into the sea in the near future, and needs to be stopped at all cost.
Koide said, “Being exposed to radiation, even if it is a very small amount, is still dangerous. Nobody should discharge radiation into the environment including the ocean”.
A Greenpeace report released earlier this year stated that the Japanese government has reviewed five proposals to deal with the accumulating radioactive waste, and considers discharging it into the Pacific Ocean the most reasonable as it would only cost 37.7 billion won, based on 2016 calculations by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The ministry also determined that other options also entailed several risks.
Greenpeace Korea believes that if the Japanese government decides to discharge the contaminated water, it will only schedule it after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as Shinzo Abe administration will, in their opinion, not court controversy while world’s full attention is focused on the Games scheduled between July 24 and Aug. 9.
A Greenpeace Korea official said, “The Japanese government cannot just discard radioactive waste at its own discretion. It is watching how other countries are reacting to its hints that it could discharge the contaminated water into the ocean. That’s why the former Japanese environment minister made such remarks on the day he retired”.
Japan will host one of the world’s biggest sporting events In less than a year and nuclear experts from all over have expressed concerns that visiting athletes from participating nations could be exposed to radiation.
Koide recommends that all international Olympic committees should decide to boycott the Tokyo Olympic Games. He sent a document to Olympic committee members worldwide last year, warning of the radiation danger because the resultant radioactive materials leaking from the explosion at the Fukushima plant in 2011 is still affecting “an area whose vastness has not been precisely determined yet.”
In his letter, Koide even questioned Japan’s suitability to host a worldwide event like the Olympics, and its ability to take strict safety measures necessary to protect athletes and visitors.