The Japanese government plans to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean on 24 August. The plan has been approved by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The water has accumulated at the plant since the 2011 nuclear disaster. The government says that the water has been treated to remove most of the radioactive isotopes and that the levels of radioactivity will be significantly below international standards after it is diluted with seawater. The water will undergo a rigorous process of treatment, filtration, and dilution to reduce radioactive isotopes to levels below regulatory limits before being discharged into the ocean.
The water release will be carried out over 30 years. The first phase of the release will involve the discharge of 7,800 tons of water. The government says that it will monitor the release closely and will adjust the pace of the release as needed.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located approximately 220 kilometres (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo on the east coast of Japan, is a stark reminder of the catastrophic events that occurred in 2011. A massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami, caused the inundation of three reactors at the plant, leading to a nuclear meltdown and the release of radioactive material into the environment.
The aftermath of the disaster necessitated the establishment of an exclusion zone around the plant to shield the public from harmful radiation exposure. As radiation leaks persisted from the compromised reactors, the exclusion zone was continually expanded, forcing more than 150,000 individuals to abandon their homes and the affected area.
The accumulation of contaminated water over the past ten years within storage tanks at the Fukushima plant has posed a challenge. The available storage capacity is depleted, prompting the Japanese government to opt for the controlled release of treated radioactive water as a necessary step in the decommissioning process.
The plant’s operator, Tepco, has been employing sophisticated filtration methods to eliminate more than 60 radioactive substances from the accumulated water. Despite these efforts, traces of tritium and carbon-14, radioactive isotopes of hydrogen and carbon, respectively, remain in the treated water. These isotopes are tough to be removed from the water.
Experts emphasise that the presence of tritium and carbon-14 in the treated water does not pose a significant danger unless consumed in large quantities. These isotopes emit extremely low levels of radiation. Professor Jim Smith from the University of Portsmouth noted that if the planned discharge proceeds, radiation exposure to individuals would be over a thousand times lower than the annual natural radiation exposure.
Experts also point out that the immense volume of the ocean would lead to substantial dilution of any substances released from the Fukushima site. Professor Gerry Thomas from Imperial College London noted that the expanse of the ocean would contribute to dispersing any potential impact.
Tokyo has maintained that the treated water intended for release is mixed with seawater to maintain safety guidelines for tritium and carbon-14 levels. Experts pointed out that nuclear power plants worldwide routinely discharge wastewater containing higher levels of tritium than those present in Fukushima’s treated water.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin took a firm stance against Japan, accusing it of prioritising its own interests over global well-being by proceeding with the wastewater release.
Hong Kong announced its intention to impose restrictions on certain Japanese food imports.
South Korea prohibited the import of fish from the Fukushima region due to concerns about radiation. However, the country supported the Fukushima water release plan.
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