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[Interview] Japanese anti-nuclear activist says fishers’ consent is crucial for Fukushima water release

Steel-framed tunnels being constructed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

September 20, 2022

What exactly is going on off the coast of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant?

Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Japan, says the Fukushima tunnel for offshore dumping of the water is unlikely to be up to scratch

On Aug. 4, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began construction on the underwater tunnel that will be used to release treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Their plan is to use the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to reduce the amount of radioactive material in the contaminated water, after which the treated water would be released into the ocean. Currently, they are at the soil preparation stage. Concerns are being raised not only in neighboring countries but also within Japan itself, pointing out that the ALPS’s ability to remove radioactive material is still unclear, and that the release of the contaminated water is being pushed ahead even though the amount of water to be released has yet to be decided.

On Sept. 6, TEPCO even opened the construction site for the underwater tunnel, 80 meters of which was already complete, to the public, suggesting that it has no intention of backing down from its plan to release the contaminated water during the first half of next year.

During his interview with the Hankyoreh, Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Japan, commented that TEPCO and the Japanese government made a written promise not to release the contaminated water without the consent of interested parties, adding that he doubted they would be able to earn the consent of fishers and environmental groups. Even technologically speaking, Ban said it was unlikely that the construction would pass the necessary safety tests upon completion.

An internationally acclaimed anti-nuclear activist, Ban has been serving as the co-director of CNIC, a private Japanese think tank working toward “a society that doesn’t rely on nuclear power” through research and studies into Japan’s nuclear policy, for the past 24 years. The interview took place on Sept. 13 over email.

■ One month into the construction of the tunnel

Hankyoreh (Hani): It’s been a month since construction for the underwater tunnel began. What stage is it currently in?

Hideyuki Ban: Excavation work for the underwater tunnel began on Aug. 4. At the same time, construction related to the stirrer inside the storage tank containing the contaminated water, the transfer pump for the treated water, and the embankment for seawater intake commenced as well. TEPCO has said it would provide “timely updates” regarding the progress of the construction, but its website doesn’t offer much information as to how it’s going. Two local governments that have jurisdiction over the nuclear power plant as well as Fukushima Prefecture consented to the construction ahead of time. The next day, civic groups protested in front of the Fukushima Prefecture office building. Civic groups are still continuing their movement against the release of the contaminated water. Plus, fishers’ groups are also firmly expressing their opposition.

Hani: The plan is to release the contaminated water into the ocean in June next year — do you think that’s likely?

Ban: For the contaminated water to be released into the ocean, consent from fishers’ groups comes above all else. TEPCO and the government promised in writing not to release the contaminated water without the consent of fishers’ groups. However, fishers’ groups are proposing special resolutions opposing the release of the contaminated water into the sea at their general meetings this year. I doubt [TEPCO and the Japanese government] will be able to earn their consent. The same goes from the technological perspective. For the contaminated water to be discharged next June, not only do various constructions currently in progress need to be completed as scheduled, but other hurdles should be jumped over, such as a safety test that would come afterward. I believe the technology is not enough to pass such tests. There are other practical issues. Problems on the site, such as the increasing number of COVID-19 patients among workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, will probably delay the construction as well.

■ Beneath the water’s surface The construction site TEPCO revealed to the Japanese media on Sept. 6 indicated that the construction is progressing quickly. According to Japanese public broadcaster NHK’s footage, the steel-framed concrete tunnel round in shape is big enough for people and equipment to pass through. Inside, a dozen or so green drainpipes stretch to the distance. The tunnel has gotten roughly 80 meters closer to the ocean since construction began. TEPCO is extending the underwater tunnel, which starts from the drainage system for nuclear reactors No. 5 and No. 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, by 16 meters each day. The tunnel’s outlet will be created 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from land. TEPCO previously stated that its goal was to complete construction of the facilities “by spring next year,” but said that completion could take place in summer, depending on weather conditions.

Hani: There were many controversies related to the underwater tunnel even before its construction began, such as when International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi took the side of TEPCO in April, saying he was satisfied with the progress Japan made during its preparation process.

Ban: The IAEA’s report says that “the government or the regulatory body are required to provide information to, and engage in consultation with, parties affected by its decisions and, as appropriate, the public and other interested parties.” The report defines “interested parties” as “individuals or organizations representing members of the public; industry; government agencies or departments whose responsibilities cover public health, nuclear energy and the environment; scientific bodies; the news media; environmental groups; and groups in the population with particular habits that might be affected significantly by the discharges, such as local producers and indigenous peoples living in the vicinity of the facility or activity under consideration.” It’s hard to understand why the IAEA determined progress had been made without properly evaluating the current situation, which hardly indicates “consultations” have been sufficiently carried out.

Hani: But the Japanese government is saying the IAEA task force’s criticism enabled it to reinforce the contents of its implementation plan and radiological impact assessment, which it is citing as the reason the plan to release the contaminated water should be pushed ahead.

Ban: TEPCO’s November 2021 report on the radiation effects of the release of ALPS-treated water into the ocean on humans and the environment indicates that the effects of tritium, which Japanese regulations acknowledge as having negative effects on the human body, were not reflected. It’s hard to say the contents have been dutifully reinforced. The report doesn’t even mention the total amount of radioactive material that would be released, which is a figure civil society has been demanding. It’s a big problem that how much of each nuclide would be released wasn’t revealed, as that information would precede any kind of agreement or discussions that would take place between the government [and interested parties] ahead of the release of the contaminated water. The IAEA should also demand that TEPCO and the Japanese government announce the total amount [of radioactive materials] it expects to release.

■ Action needed now

Hani: How unsafe do you think it is to release the contaminated water into the ocean?

Ban: The contaminated water currently contains 64 different radioactive nuclides, including tritium, which can enter the human body and cause internal exposures. The government and TEPCO plan to use the ALPS over and over until the amount of radioactive material in the contaminated water has been reduced to a level fit for release to the ocean. However, the contaminated water will be released for over 30 years. Additionally, risk assessments presume the contaminated water will evenly spread across the ocean and become diluted, but in reality, it will accumulate in specific regions underwater or in seafood. This will ultimately lead to the radiation of people who eat seafood.

Hani: The release of the contaminated water has moved from the “preparation stage” to the “implementation stage,” in a sense.

Ban: Yes. Concerns about radiation caused by radioactive material and the voices of those worried about negative effects on the tourism industry, as well as the fishing, forestry and agriculture industries, are growing louder and louder.

Hani: What are some things people can do right now?

Ban: People should be vocal so that the plan to release the contaminated water into the ocean can be stopped immediately. The Japanese government and TEPCO say nuclear power plants around the world regularly emit tritium. While such everyday tritium emissions will ultimately lead to radioactive contamination, the bigger problem is that the world has never seen a case in which 64 nuclides including tritium were released into nature simultaneously, as the release of the contaminated water from Fukushima will. The water will keep on being discharged for the next 30 years while the total amount of radioactive material being released remains a mystery. Pollution of the marine environment caused by radioactive material emitted by the water should not be overlooked. By Hong Seock-jae, staff reporter


September 26, 2022 - Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , ,

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