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Japan is not being transparent about the radioactive content in Fukushima wastewater

A 2018 TEPCO report revealed that even after filtration the treated water still contained other radionuclides, such as strontium-90 and iodine-129, above regulatory-limit levels.

Japan’s nuclear wastewater plan is clouded by politics
29 June 2021  East Asia Forum Author: Yasuo Takao, Curtin University

The Japanese government’s approval of a plan to discharge treated radioactive water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean has unilaterally reversed a decade of nuclear safety reform in Japan. Although providing information to foreign embassies in Tokyo and online social networks, the Japanese government has failed to allay domestic concerns and rising international pressure.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) proposes to use an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to remove all the radionuclides from the wastewater except tritium — which poses the lowest health risk. It will then dilute the tritium concentration until levels are safe enough for release into the Pacific Ocean.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and TEPCO, with the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other experts, claim that this ‘dilution and discharge option’ is technically feasible and safe. Since the ALPS operations started in 2013, TEPCO has insisted that releasing treated water into the ocean is a normal part of nuclear plant operations around the world.

But the water directly injected into the cooling process of the damaged reactors and fuel debris is different from the water normally used for cooling nuclear plants. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has described this cooling process as free-flowing (kakenagashi) because of its direct contact with the damaged reactors. The used cooling water from the Fukushima plant is much more radioactive than that from a normal operation.

A 2018 TEPCO report revealed that even after filtration the treated water still contained other radionuclides, such as strontium-90 and iodine-129, above regulatory-limit levels. In September 2020, TEPCO began to carry out secondary treatment tests on the water to reduce the amount of radioactive substance it contained.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stated, ‘the disposal of ALPS treated water is unavoidable and experts have recommended that the release into the sea is the most realistic method’. If good nuclear safety governance is concerned with bringing stakeholders together to meet social needs, then the prime minister’s remark falls short.

Referring to ‘expert opinion’ as the main factor in the decision making process can be seen as a political strategy to avoid blame. The Suga cabinet is unwilling to take political responsibility for releasing the wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. The potential threats to human health and the environment call for closer scrutiny of Japan’s leadership………

TEPCO needs to regain public trust by exercising transparency and providing accurate and reliable information about the current state of radionuclides contained in each water storage tank at Fukushima Daiichi. The Japanese government should produce a clear technical plan at the operational level and an environmental impact report for stakeholders. The Japanese government and TEPCO should also actively seek views from all relevant stakeholders — including those in other countries — and show that their concerns are being adequately addressed…….

July 1, 2021 - Posted by | Japan, radiation

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