Japan began releasing wastewater from the stricken Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean this month, 12 years after it suffered one of the world’s worst nuclear plant accidents.
Around 100,000 litres (26,500 gallons) of water — contaminated by cooling the plant’s wrecked reactors plus groundwater and rain seeping in — is collected at the site in northeastern Japan every day. Some 1.34 million tonnes — equivalent to almost 540 Olympic pools — are now stored in around a thousand steel containers at the seaside site, and now there is no more space, authorities say. Japan decided in 2021, after years of discussion, that it would release at most around 500,000 litres per day into the sea via a pipe one kilometre (0.6 miles) long. The discharge will take around 30 years to complete.
What has been done to the water?
Plant operator TEPCO says that a special filtering system called ALPS has removed all radioactive elements — including caesium and strontium — except tritium. TEPCO has said the water is diluted to reduce radioactivity levels to 1,500 becquerels per litre (Bq/L), far below the national safety standard of 60,000 Bq/L.
UN atomic watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said the release meets international standards and “will not cause any harm to the environment”.
The far more dangerous task is the removal of radioactive debris and highly dangerous nuclear fuel from the three reactors that went into meltdown in 2011. TEPCO plans to use robots to remove the fuel but there are fears that radiation levels are so high that they could even disable the machines. The whole gargantuan process is expected to take 30 to 40 years and cost around eight trillion yen ($55 billion).
Both China and North Korea condemned the release. They questioned the safety of the water and impact on seafood supplies. China has subsequently banned the import of aquatic products originating from Japan. Hong Kong and Macau introduced similar bans for seafood imports. They questioned why the waste water is not released or utilised domestically within Japan, if it is in fact, safe for consumption.
South Korea government reaction was somewhat subdued, although the opposition slammed the release as an act of terror.