Japan began draining Fukushima sewage on Thursday


Tokyo
CNN

Japan will begin releasing treated radioactive water from Fukushima into the sea starting Thursday, officials announced Tuesday, following months of public concern and pushback from several neighboring countries.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials “will release on August 24 if they meet no obstacles.” The decision was taken after the government held a cabinet meeting to discuss the matter.

Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 left the water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant contaminated with highly radioactive materials. Since then, fresh water has been pumped in to cool the fuel debris in the reactors, while groundwater and rainwater have seeped in, creating highly radioactive wastewater.

All this waste water has been treated so far and stored in massive tanks. But space is running out, and officials say the water must be removed to safely remove the plant — hence the ocean launch plan, which has been controversial from the start.

In July, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Japan’s plan complied with international safety standards and had “very low radiological impact on people and the environment” – a point it reiterated on Tuesday after the government’s announcement. The plan will undergo a two-year “comprehensive review”.

But this did not reassure many of Japan’s neighbors, with officials from China and the Pacific Islands voicing alarm and opposition to the plan.

The people of South Korea have staged several street protests against independence, although the country’s leaders have expressed support for Japan.

Meanwhile, fishing communities in Japan and South Korea worry that the wastewater discharge could end their livelihoods — consumers across the region have already begun swearing off seafood from Japan and nearby waters, and some governments have banned imported food from parts of Japan. including Fukushima.

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On Monday, Kishida met with the head of a nationwide organization representing fishermen, who told the prime minister he was more understanding about the wastewater discharge – but that it was “still opposed” to the project going forward.

While radioactive wastewater contains some dangerous elements, most of it can be removed through various treatment processes, according to state-owned power company Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

The real issue is a hydrogen isotope called radioactive tritium, which cannot be carried away. The technology to do so does not currently exist.

Officials say the Fukushima wastewater will be highly diluted and released slowly over decades – meaning the concentration of tritium released will be very low and meet international regulations.

Many countries, including the United States, continue to release treated wastewater containing small amounts of tritium from their nuclear power plants.

TEPCO, the Japanese government, and the IAEA argue that tritium occurs naturally in the environment, including rain and tap water, so wastewater discharges should be safe.

But experts are divided on the risk it poses. Most national agencies agree that small amounts of tritium are not very harmful, but large amounts can be dangerous.

Some scientists worry that diluting the wastewater could harm marine life, allowing pollutants to accumulate in an already fragile ecosystem. An expert who helped Pacific island nations review and evaluate wastewater discharge plans told CNN it was “ill-advised” and premature.

Others argue that we don’t have enough studies or data on the long-term biological effects of exposure to tritium.

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The dissolved water is released into the Pacific Ocean through an undersea tunnel. A third party, including the IAEA, will monitor the discharge during and after release.

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