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Fukushima Treated Water: Dispelling the Disinformation and Rumors

Releasing the treated water at Fukushima is safe, says the IAEA, and the tritium in it is only about one fifth of what China releases at its Yangjiang plant.



Containers of treated water at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant.

The joint statement from the recent China-Russia summit included criticism of Japan's plans to discharge treated water from Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean. The statement described the release as "radioactive contaminated water," a glimpse of an intention to make it an international issue. 

Implementation of the plan is scheduled for the summer of 2023. As it approaches, careful scientific explanations are once again required to clear up misunderstandings in the international community and to promote understanding of the plan and counteract harmful rumors. 

tritium Fukuishima
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry

Authorization from the IAEA

"There are factual errors," said Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura at a post-Cabinet press conference on March 24. The head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) clearly refuted the concerns expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in their joint statement about the planned release of treated water.

Mr Nishimura took particular issue with the phrase "radioactive contaminated water." Treated water is water from which radioactive substances other than tritium have been removed. This is done by cooling down the melted fuel debris and purifying the contaminated water. 

Mr Nishimura reiterated his previous assertions that the release of treated water was being carried out in full compliance with international standards and would not cause any harm.

In January of 2023, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) evaluated the release plan. It concluded that the pre-operational inspections of the facilities were properly conducted in accordance with international safety standards. Experts from China and Russia also participated in the inspections, but there were no scientific arguments against its safety verification. 

This is essentially an independent international organization giving its seal of approval to the safety of the plan. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, who visited the plant in May 2022, urged the IAEA to make a scientific judgment. "The countries that have expressed concern should also accept these standards," he emphasized.

Fukushima treated water

Less Tritium Released Than China

Tritium already exists in nature. However, the energy of its radiation is so weak that it cannot pass through a sheet of paper. And even if it enters the human body, much of it is discharged and has no effect on health. 

Although the emission standards differ, other countries with nuclear facilities also discharge the tritium they generate into the sea.  

According to METI data, the annual release of liquid tritium  under the plan for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is less than 22 trillion becquerels. Pressurized water reactors such as Kansai Electric Power Company’s (KEPCO) Takahama nuclear power plant, which differs from Fukushima Daiichi in its power generation system, have discharged an average of about 18 to 83 trillion becquerels into the sea. 

This is still less than the Yangjiang nuclear power plant in China, which discharges about 107 trillion becquerels. And it is less than the Kori nuclear power plant in South Korea, which discharges about 91 trillion becquerels. 

But Fukushima is 'Different' Say Critics

However, in the case of Fukushima, critics theorize that the impact on the ecosystem could be different because the emissions originate from the accident, not from normal operations. 

The government has also taken steps responding to this allegation. It has set aside approximately ¥50 billion JPY ($375 million USD) in a fund to purchase fishery products and support fishermen as a countermeasure against the harmful rumors. 

Monitoring will also be strengthened after the start of the release. For example, they will increase the number of times the tritium concentration in seawater is measured in the surrounding sea. 

Fukushima tritium
Fishermen in the region suffered restrictions on import of their products for a decade after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. They are concerned the treated water release would bring new restrictions all over again.

Achieving Understanding for Release

According to a nationwide online survey released by the government in February 2023, 46.0% of respondents were in favor of release into the ocean. Only 23.8% of the respondents were against the measure. 

Active public relations activity by the government and TEPCO since the end of 2022 are also believed to have had an impact. 

TEPCO has set up a "treated water portal" on its website, which is also available in Chinese and Korean. There are 18 items that are briefly summarized and illustrated in the "Things To Know About Treated Water" section, and included a video. 

In 2015, the government and TEPCO promised local fishermen in writing that they would not dispose of the treated water without the understanding of all concerned parties. Local fishermen remain opposed to the project, and it will not move forward without their understanding. 

Professor Ryota Koyama of Fukushima University, who served as a member of the national panel of experts on the disposal methods for treated water, assessed the situation. 

We need to be careful not to stir up social unrest with misunderstandings and rumors due to the absence of a deeper understanding. It is necessary to ascertain, through periodic surveys, the extent of the public's understanding of the difference between treated water and contaminated water. 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Kenta Shiraiwa

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