Japan began releasing water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific on Thursday. It’s more than 1 million tons of water, used to cool the reactor cores that went into meltdown after the devastating tsunami of 2011. The water was treated to get rid of radioactive substances. The dumping operation is done in small quantities and would take decades. It is considered safe by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But it is criticized by environmental organizations, Japanese fishermen and, above all, by China, which fears that radioactive water will reach its shores.
This first discharge should last about 17 days and involve about 7,800 cubic meters of tritiated water from the plant, Tepco said.
The group expects three more evacuations between now and the end of March, for volumes equivalent to the first.
In total, Japan plans to dump into the Pacific Ocean more than 1.3 million cubic meters of wastewater stored so far at the Fukushima Daiichi plant site, coming from rainwater, groundwater and injections needed to cool reactor cores that have gone into meltdown after the March 2011 tsunami that devastated the northeastern coast of the country.
This process will be done gradually – it should last until the 2050s – and the content of tritiated water from daily discharges into the sea will not exceed 500 m3.
The water has been pre-filtered to remove most radioactive substances, except for tritium, which is not harmful to the environment or human health if its concentration is very low.
Japan intends to release this water in a highly diluted form so that the level of radioactivity does not exceed 1,500 becquerels (Bq) per liter. This level is 40 times lower than Japan’s national standard for tritiated water, aligned with the international standard (60,000 Bq/liter), and is also about seven times lower than the ceiling set by the World Health Organization ( WHO) for drinking water (10,000 Bq/liter).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees the waste disposal operation, gave the go-ahead in July, stating that the project met “international safety standards” and that it would have “negligible radiological impact on the population and the environment”.
But many see things differently. First, Japanese fishermen fear the impact on the image of their products.
This impact is already being felt in terms of their exports, with China banning food imports from ten Japanese provinces, including Fukushima, since July. Hong Kong and Macau took similar measures this week.
“The ocean is the property of all mankind, it is not a place where Japan can arbitrarily dump contaminated water,” said a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Wang Wenbin, on Tuesday.
However, the discharge of tritiated water into the sea is a common practice in the nuclear industry around the world, and the annual level of radioactivity in such discharges from Chinese nuclear power plants is much higher than that expected at Fukushima Daiichi, Tokyo pointed out.
According to analysts, it is very likely that Beijing’s intransigent position regarding the waters from Fukushima is also related to the relations between the two countries, which are already tense on many economic and geopolitical issues.
Other Asia-Pacific states that have better relations with Japan, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and Fiji and the Cook Islands, have expressed confidence in the safety of the release process controlled by the IAEA.
Editor : G.M.