In accordance with a recommendation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japanese officials are considering diluting contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant to a level of radioactivity regarded as safe, then dumping it into the ocean.
Although they have been weighing such a plan for several years, to date the Japanese government has not announced its implementation.
In May and June 2017, an assortment of web sites that share a history of posting unreliable information published a report stating that Japanese authorities had announced plans to dispose of nuclear wastewater from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in the Pacific Ocean — a claim that is at odds with mainstream news reporting on the topic, including the source cited by the article itself.
For example, YourNewsWire.com’s story began:
Japan has announced plans to dump 920,000 tons of deadly Fukushima nuclear waste into the Pacific ocean, saying that they can no longer contain the waste on land.
Following the major tsunami in 2011 that resulted the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant shutting down, the constant leaking of radiation that has occurred in the aftermath has been dubbed one of the worst nuclear disasters since Chernobyl.
Newstarget.com reports: Six years after the disaster, the three crippled reactors are still leaking water with high levels of radiation into the Pacific Ocean. Though the Pacific Ocean is a vast stretch of water, Fukushima’s radiation is reaching the coast of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, contaminating the fish we eat and the water we swim in.
Citing a televised interview with a U.K. engineering expert on an April 2017 segment of a news program on TRT World (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation’s international news channel), the report continued:
Mark Whitby, chairman and design director of the engineering and consultancy firm WME Consultants, explained that today about 400 tons of water go into each reactor to cool it. Part of the highly radioactive water is recycled to re-cool the reactors, and the rest goes into big tanks, which are stacking up at a fast rate. As reported by TRT, Japan is running out of storage space. There are currently about a 1,000 storage tanks holding 920,000 tons of contaminated water.
As if the marine life isn’t struggling enough already by the vast amounts of plastic in the oceans, the Japanese are now talking about dumping these tanks with nuclear wastewater directly into the sea because they cannot keep building and storing these reservoirs, Whitby told TRT.
However, note the discrepancy between the statement attributed to Whitby directly above and the article’s opening paragraph, which said: “Japan has announced plans to dump 920,000 tons of deadly Fukushima nuclear waste into the Pacific ocean.”
Here is a transcript of Whitby’s exact words:
They’re now getting to the point where they are beginning to talk about wanting to just drop the tanks into the ocean, because they just can’t keep building these tanks to keep the place cool.
Whitby didn’t say the Japanese had announced they’re doing it; he said the Japanese were beginning to talk about doing it. His remarks were apparently informed by a New York Times report published the month before saying Japanese officials were debating dumping Fukushima wastewater into the sea:
The Tokyo Electric Power Company is pumping water nonstop through the three reactors to cool melted fuel that remains too hot and radioactive to remove. About 400 tons of water pass through the reactors every day, including groundwater that seeps in. The water picks up radiation in the reactors and then is diverted into a decontamination facility.
But the decontamination filters cannot remove all the radioactive material. So for now, all this water is being stored in 1,000 gray, blue and white tanks on the grounds. The tanks already hold 962,000 tons of contaminated water, and Tokyo Electric is installing more tanks. It is also trying to slow the flow of groundwater through the reactors by building an underground ice wall.
Within a few years, though, and no one is sure exactly when, the plant may run out of room to store the contaminated water. “We cannot continue to build tanks forever,” said Shigenori Hata, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The authorities are debating whether it might be acceptable, given the relatively low radioactive levels in the water, to dilute the contaminated water and then dump it into the ocean. But local fishermen are vehemently opposed. Many people still do not trust Tokyo Electric because of its bungled response to the disaster, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
It appears Japan has been considering this measure for quite some time. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, called on Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) in 2015 to “work toward discharging low-level contaminated water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.” The International Atomic Energy Agency made the same recommendation two years before that, stipulating that Tepco would have to conduct safety and environmental assessments first, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority would have to review them.
The IAEA maintains that such a release would not only be safe (because the radioactive water would be diluted to a level regarded as unharmful), but that it is consistent with standard practice:
“Controlled discharge is a regular practice at all nuclear facilities in the world,” Juan Carlos Lentijo, director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, told a news conference in Tokyo as the team wrapped up its inspection of the plant.
For good or ill, it may well come to pass that contaminated water from Fukushima Daiichi will be diluted and dumped into the Pacific Ocean, because no one has yet come up with a better solution for dealing with radioactive leakage from the plant. Unless it is already being done in secret, however, as of June 2017, it is still a proposed solution to a nearly intractable problem.