On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered a magnitude nine earthquake that set into motion the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl almost forty years ago. The natural disaster combined with a 14-meter high tsunami overwhelmed the backup generators at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Japan, leading to three meltdowns, a series of hydrogen explosions, and the release of radioactive contamination from several of the reactors. Over 154,000 people in the surrounding area were evacuated, and large amounts of contaminated water were released into the Pacific Ocean.
According to the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), negligence by the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), combined with lax oversight by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry were the two major contributing factors to the Fukushima Plant’s meltdown. Now, almost ten years later, while there has been no noticeable rise in physical health consequences resulting from the incident, the debate concerning what to do with contaminated water still being generated from the plant continues today.
Until now, TEPCO would process contaminated water using Cesium/Strontium filtering equipment and then treat it through a process known as Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) and store it in large barrels. This two-step process removes most radioactive material from the water, with one notable exception: tritium. Recently, the Japanese government announced that they were finalizing a plan to enact a controlled release of treated water from the plant into the Pacific Ocean over a thirty-year period. TEPCO has continuously stated that they will run out of space to store the treated water on-site by 2022, so an alternative solution must be put in place by then.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority in Japan has repeatedly stated that tritium below allowable limits is regularly released into waterways by nuclear plants globally, so safety is not a top concern at the moment. Additionally, TEPCO has committed to putting all of its stored water through a second round of treatment to assuage any fears and ensure that any radioactive material is removed as much as possible.
Understandably though, that has not assuaged the real concerns of Japan’s fishing industry and the country’s direct neighbors, South Korea and China. Additionally, Greenpeace has vehemently opposed any release of treated water into the ocean, saying in a report that, “ The Japanese government’s narrative has been created for both financial and political reasons. Not only is ocean discharge the cheapest option, it helps the government create the impression that substantial progress is being made in the early decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. But long after the Suga and Abe administrations are historical footnotes, the consequences of the nuclear disaster will remain a constant threat, most immediately to the people and environment of Fukushima, but also more widely in Japan and internationally.”
Nevertheless, the Japanese government is expected to release a final plan within the next few months, and any release of treated water into the ocean wouldn’t begin until at least 2022. If anything, this underscores the real challenges countries face concerning nuclear technology and its potential as an energy alternative to fossil fuels.
Originally published at https://robertpotter.co on November 20, 2020.