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EDITORIAL | On Safety of Releasing Treated Water, Let the Experts Prevail

Scientific findings should put an end to China and South Korea’s fear mongering about the supposed “danger” of treated water release from Japan.



Tanks of treated water pile up at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, leading to a nuclear accident at the plant.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed five days of inspections in Japan on February 18. They were in Japan to verify the safety of releasing treated water from TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean, and a report on the investigation’s results will be compiled by the end of April. 

The concentration of tritium (hydrogen-3) and other radioactive substances in the treated water at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been removed to the extent possible by using multi-nuclide removal equipment (ALPS), and is well below the international safety standard. The upcoming IAEA report is expected to objectively indicate to the world that the release will have no harmful impact on the ecosystem or human health.

Tritium is naturally distributed in the living environment and is also produced by the operation of nuclear power plants. Since tritium is part of the molecule of water, it cannot be filtered out. 

In addition, the radioactivity of tritium is weak and does not accumulate in living organisms. For this reason its release into the environment at levels below the standard values is allowed at nuclear facilities around the world.

Yet, even 11 years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, the release of treated water containing tritium has not taken place.

The main reason for this is an aversion that has formed in people’s minds because it used to be contaminated water from a nuclear power plant. 

RELATED: A Decade After Fukushima Daiichi Tragedy: Stop the Rumors, Listen to Scientists

Fishermen have voiced their concerns over reputational damage, and also that the volume of treated water accumulating at the site has continued to increase without their permission. More than 1,000 large tanks stand on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, hindering any progress in the decommissioning process.

Gustavo Caruso, left, director and safety coordination of the IAEA taskforce, speaks during a meeting with the government officials, at the ministry in Tokyo Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Photo: METI via AP)

In response to this situation, in April 2021 the government decided on a plan for the release of treated water into the ocean. Preparations are now underway to release into the Pacific Ocean water which has been treated to fully meet accepted standards. The treated water would be funneled through an undersea tunnel to about one kilometer off the coast of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the spring of 2023.

However, China and South Korea have voiced opposition to the release of what they are calling “nuclear polluted water,” claiming it is “a danger to the safety of neighboring countries and the marine environment.” These spiteful accusations are nothing short of fear mongering.

RELATED: China and South Korea, Too, Release Nuclear Plant Wastewater Into the Oceans

It was in this context that the IAEA was called to intervene. Eight out of the 14 members of the delegation to Japan hold the title of international expert, and the team includes members from China and South Korea.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has commented that while China supports the IAEA’s inspection activities, it does not approve of Japan’s plan to release radioactive water into the ocean, saying that Japan should halt all preparatory work for the release.

Does this declaration imply that China will continue to oppose Japan’s plan even if it is endorsed by the IAEA report in April? 

We hope that the report will include a statement on the danger of unscientific and unethical behavior hindering the proper utilization of nuclear energy around the world.


(Read the report in Japanese at this link)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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