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EDITORIAL | No Reason to Doubt Safety of Fukushima Daiichi Treated Water 

In Japan, tritium comes 10 times more in rainfall than would be released at Fukushima Daiichi. China and South Korea release far more of it.



The press was given a tour of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the facilitity for releasing treated water into the ocean. It includes a pipe with a 2.2 meter diameter where treated water and seawater mix. On June 26 afternoon (© Kyodo)

A one-kilometer underwater tunnel and other facilities for discharging treated water from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are complete. That indicates the release of treated water into the Pacific Ocean is imminent.

With this development, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has commenced pre-use inspections to verify the correct performance of the equipment.

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is visiting Japan and delivering a final report to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. His report incorporates the IAEA inspection team's findings concerning the safety of the discharge plan.

The Prime Minister should start the release as soon as possible. However, addressing the persisting misunderstandings that could lead to reputational damage, even in Japan, is also critically important. It is essential to have a thorough understanding of tritium, the radioactive substance contained in the treated water.

Storage tanks of treated water lined up on the premises of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (bottom of picture) in February 2022 (© Sankei).

Treatment of Contaminated Water at Fukushima

Water was contaminated as a result of the accident that led to the core meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. That water undergoes treatment using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), a multi-nuclide process. This system effectively removes most of the radioactive substances. 

Nevertheless, tritium, a sibling element of hydrogen that exists naturally in nature, including in water molecules, cannot be separated. It, therefore, remains in the treated water.

However, the radioactivity of tritium is extremely weak and it is rapidly discharged from living organisms. Because of its nature, the global practice of releasing tritium into the ocean is accepted worldwide.

China and South Korea Release Tritium Into the Ocean

Tritium is also naturally generated in operational nuclear reactors. And countries like China and South Korea release a significant amount of tritium into the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. In fact, the volume of tritium they release amounts to approximately 70 trillion to 140 trillion becquerels annually. 

In comparison, the plan for the treated water released at Fukushima aims to maintain controlled tritium levels of only up to 22 trillion becquerels annually.

Furthermore, tritium is also naturally produced through the interaction of cosmic rays and the atmosphere. This is an important feature to understand. The quantity of tritium present in rainfall in Japan reaches approximately 220 trillion becquerels per year.

The upper lid is installed at the tunnel outlet used to discharge treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on June 26. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Company)

Damage from False Rumors

Despite these facts, it is disheartening to witness false rumors about seafood products causing reputational damage even within the country. The government was therefore compelled to establish a fund of ¥80 billion JPY ($553.12 million USD) to address these concerns and provide support to the fishing industry

These rumors are false and unfounded in any facts. However, if the government mishandles its response, it may further amplify baseless concerns and reputational issues.

There are over 1,000 tanks of treated water housed on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. To progress the decommissioning process and facilitate regional recovery, the number of tanks must be reduced to secure land. That requires releasing the treated water into the ocean. However, there is a significant challenge associated with the ocean release.

Eight years ago, the government and TEPCO promised the local fishing community that "no disposal will be carried out without the understanding of the stakeholders." This is a critical moment and addressing the issue with the utmost rationality is imperative.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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