The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Fukushima’s fishing industry survived a nuclear disaster. 12 years on, it fears Tokyo’s next move may finish it off.

BEmiko Jozuka, Krystina Shveda, Junko OguraMarc Stewart and Daniel Campisi, CNN, April 19, 2023

It is still morning when Kinzaburo Shiga, 77, returns to Onahama port after catching a trawler full of fish off Japan’s eastern coast.

But the third-generation fisherman won’t head straight to market. First, he’ll test his catch for radiation.

It’s a ritual he’s repeated for more than a decade since a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011, spewing deadly radioactive particles into the surrounding area.

Radiation from the damaged nuclear plant leaked into the sea, prompting authorities to suspend fishing operations off the coast of three prefectures that had previously provided Japan with half of its catch.

That ban lasted over a year and even after it was lifted, Fukushima-based fishermen like Shiga were for years mostly limited to collecting samples for radioactivity tests on behalf of the state-owned electricity firm Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, rather than taking their catches to market.

Ocean currents have since dispersed the contaminated water enough that radioactive Cesium is nearly undetectable in fish from Fukushima prefecture. Japan lifted its last remaining restrictions on fish from the area in 2021, and most countries have eased import restrictions.

Shiga and others in the industry thought they’d put the nightmare of the past years behind them.

So when Japan followed through on plans to gradually release more than 1 million metric tons of filtered wastewater into the Pacific Ocean from the summer of 2023 – an action the government says is necessary to decommission the plant safely – the industry reeled.

The Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations body promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, say the controlled release, which is expected to take decades, will meet international safety regulations and not harm the environment, as the water will be treated to remove radioactive elements – with the exception of tritium – and diluted more than 100 times.

But with the deadline for the planned water release looming this summer, Fukushima’s fishermen fear that – whether the release is safe or not – the move will undermine consumer confidence in their catches and once again threaten the way of life they have fought so hard to recover…………………………………………………………………..

While radioactive wastewater contains dangerous elements including Cesium and Strontium, TEPCO says the majority of those particles can be separated from the water and removed. TEPCO claims its filtering system, called advanced liquid processing (ALPS), can bring down the amount of those elements far below regulatory standards.

But one hydrogen isotope cannot be taken away, as there is currently no technology available to do so. This isotope is radioactive tritium, and the scientific community is divided on the risk its dissemination carries………………………………………………………

“For decades, nuclear power plants worldwide – including in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, China and South Korea – have been releasing waste contaminated with tritium, each under its own national quota,” said Tim Mousseau, an environmental scientist at the University of South Carolina.

But Mousseau argues tritium is overlooked because many countries are invested in nuclear energy, and “there’s no way to produce it without also generating vast amounts of tritium.”

“If people started picking on TEPCO in Fukushima, then the practice of releasing tritium to the environment in all of these other nuclear power plants would need to be examined as well. So, it opens up a can of worms,” he said, adding the biological consequences of exposure to tritium have not been studied sufficiently.

In 2012, a French literature review study said tritium can be toxic to the DNA and reproductive processes of aquatic animals, particularly invertebrates, and the sensitivity of different species to various levels of tritium needs to be further investigated.

Currently, countries set different standards for the concentration of tritium allowed in drinking water. For example. Australia, which has no nuclear power plants, allows more than 76,000 becquerel per liter, a measure used to gauge radioactivity, while the WHO’s limit is 10,000. Meanwhile, the US and the European Union have much more conservative limits – 740 and 100 becquerel per liter respectively.

Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, told CNN that “two wrongs don’t make a right” when it comes to Japan’s decision to release tritiated water. He argues TEPCO should build more storage tanks to allow for the decay of the radioactive tritium, which has a half-life of 12.3 years.

Lack of trust for the ‘nuclear village’

In Japan, the Fukushima wastewater issue has become highly contentious due to a lack of trust among influential advocates of nuclear energy, or what’s locally known as the “nuclear village.”

The informal group includes members of Japan’s ruling party (the Liberal Democratic Party), the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and the nuclear industry.

“(The nuclear village) used to tell us that nuclear energy is 100% safe – but it wasn’t, as the Fukushima Daiichi plant accident revealed,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University, in Tokyo.

A series of missteps after the disaster further eroded public trust, according to a 2016 report written by Kohta Juraku, a researcher at Tokyo Denki University.

For instance, in 2012, the government and TEPCO presented a proposed action plan to local fishing representatives that involved pumping up groundwater before it flooded into the nuclear reactor buildings and releasing it into the sea. Fishing bodies were on board but the plan was it postponed until 2014 after 300 tons of radioactive water leaked from the plant into the sea, infuriating fishers………………………………………


April 20, 2023 - Posted by | business and costs, environment, Fukushima continuing

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