Fukushima: what is the real environmental damage of contaminated water release

Experts say the main problem is tritium, the radioactive element of hydrogen, which cannot be removed from contaminated water because there is no technology to do so, with the water simply being diluted

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Fukushima: what is the real environmental damage of contaminated water release

Japan has begun releasing radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima plant. In 2011, an earthquake followed by a tsunami destroyed the nuclear power plant, destroying the cooling system and causing the reactor cores to overheat and the water inside the plant to be contaminated with highly radioactive material.

Japan is gradually releasing the wastewater into the ocean, with the green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The first release is one of four expected between now and the end of March 2024. The entire process will take at least 30 years.

The plant produces contaminated water, which is stored in more than 1,000 tanks. Japan says it needs the land occupied by the tanks to build new facilities for the safe decommissioning of the plant. Experts also expressed concern about the consequences of any collapse of the tanks in the event of a natural disaster.

China has banned Japanese seafood following the release of sewage. Some media commentators believe this is a political move, especially as experts say there is no scientific evidence to support the seafood concerns given that the radiation released is so low.

What is the real environmental damage of contaminated water release

Experts say the main problem is tritium, the radioactive element of hydrogen, which cannot be removed from contaminated water because there is no technology to do so, with the water simply being diluted.

The IAEA said an independent on-site analysis showed that the tritium concentration in the discharged water was well below the operational limit of 1,500 becquerels per liter (Bg/L). This limit is six times lower than that set by the World Health Organization for drinking water, which is 10,000 Bg/L.

Professor Emily Hammond, energy and environmental law expert at George Washington University, said: "One can have great faith in the IAEA's work, while acknowledging that compliance with standards does not mean that the environmental or human consequences attributed to the decision are zero." Marine biologist Robert Richmond, from the University of Hawaii, told the BBC: "We have seen an inadequate radiological and ecological impact assessment which makes us very concerned that Japan is not only unable to detect what that gets into water and sediment and organisms, but if it does, there is no recourse to remove it, there is no way to get the genie back into the bottle."