Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
News was leaked in early October that Japan had decided to release over one million metric tons of Fukushima’s radioactive waste water into the Pacific.
But on October 23, the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama told a press conference “the government has no plan to make a decision on what to do with over [one million metric tons] of treated water,” and Kyodo News reported that the government had “put off a decision.”
Flipping again on October 28, the AP reported that “Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says his government is working on the final details of a plan to release” the tainted cooling water, a process that would reportedly involve dilution and gradual dumping over many years’ time.
Critics of the dumping proposal called the plan a bailout of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), which owns the wreckage. Local and national representatives of the fishing community traveled to Tokyo in October to protest to federal ministers. Nongovernmental experts have recommended costlier alternatives to ocean dumping including evaporation, long-term storage, mixing with concrete for burial, or buying additional tank farm acreage.
Although the stored water has been through Tepco’s novel filter system known as ALPS, the process has largely failed. About 70 percent of the stored waste water contains deadly isotopes that Tepco earlier claimed would be removed.
Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, reported about the waste water Oct. 26: “Radioactive varieties of iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt, and strontium have been reduced by ALPS but not eliminated. In 2017, more than half of the samples studied showed levels of radioactive contamination for these materials that are above legal limits. In the case of strontium-90, a bone-seeking radioisotope, some 65,000 tonnes of water had levels 100 times above the legal limit even after being treated by ALPS.”
Tepco, trying to quell the uproar over the ALPS failure, announced that it can re-filter the waste before piping it into the Pacific. The fishing industry and neighboring countries including South Korea oppose any ocean release of tritium and other radioactive contaminants which would eventually contaminate seafood as the materials move up the food chain. An Oct. 9 editorial in the Korea Times that condemned the dumping threat warned of an “environmental disaster” that could “destroy the marine ecosystem.”
Independent scientists argue that long-term food and environmental impacts from radioactive seawater are unknown and could pose higher risks than Japan’s environmental, agricultural, and industrial ministries have claimed. Ken Buesseler, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, wrote recently that not only tritium but other isotopes that affect marine life should be carefully examined.