Japan Releases Treated Fukushima Wastewater Into Pacific Ocean

On August 24th, Japan began discharging treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, B.B.C. News reports. The B.B.C. added that the wastewater release was the beginning of a long process of discharging, which the Japanese government projects will take around 30 years in total. During the first two weeks, the government predicts to release approximately 8,000 tons of wastewater.

In March 2011, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan struck off the nation’s eastern coast: a staggering magnitude 9.0. The quake triggered a tsunami that swept over Japan’s main island of Honshu, killing more than 18,000 people and wiping entire towns off the map. Following the earthquake at the Fukushima nuclear plant on the eastern coast, a 15-metre tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident, according to Worldnuclear.org. More than 150,000 people evacuated from the sea, B.B.C. News says, with many residents still unreturned. Japan has already spent trillions of yen on Fukushima, the B.B.C. says, but it will still take up to 40 years to finish the work of decontamination.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company has been pumping in water to cool down the reactors’ fuel rods since the disaster. This means the plant has been producing contaminated water daily, which B.B.C. News says is stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the facility. Discharging this water is projected to take 30 years or more. August 24th marked the beginning of the wastewater release from the Fukushima water tanks.

The United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), has approved the discharging, The Guardian reported. The I.A.E.A.’s permanent office at Fukushima said an “independent, on-site analysis” had shown that the tritium concentration in the water discharged was “far below the operational limit of 1,500 becquerels per litre (Bg/L).” However, B.B.C. News says that some scientists disagree that the water is entirely safe so long as it contains tritium, a radioactive element of hydrogen which cannot be removed through distillation.

“One can have a lot of faith in the I.A.E.A.’s work while still recognizing that compliance with standards does not mean that there are ‘zero’ environmental or human consequences attributed to the decision,” said professor Emily Hammond, an expert in energy and environmental law with George Washington University.

The South Korean government supports Japan’s plan, B.B.C. News says, but the public sentiment is different, as the nation’s people are outraged by Japan’s decision. Not many Japanese citizens are happy with the decision either. China and Hong Kong, meanwhile, have reacted with hostility towards Japan’s decision on the state level, the B.B.C. says, with Hong Kong pre-emptively banning Japanese seafood imports.

“The ocean is the common property of all humanity, and forcibly starting the discharge of Fukushima’s nuclear wastewater into the ocean is an extremely selfish and irresponsible act that ignores international public interests,” Beijing’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Although most authorities agree that the discharged water is safe, it does not erase concerns about the environmental impact of the release, especially concerning the possible effects of tritium. Japan did not sufficiently research the wastewater’s impacts on human lives or on the environment before the release; as marine biologist Robert Richmond from the University of Hawaii told the BBC, what is released cannot go back to its tank, whether Japan is aware of what it contains or not. Many people in Japan and its surrounding countries depend on the sea, either directly or through marine-related industry. Japan and its supporters should have done further research before approving the release.

On the day of the release, South Korean police arrested at least 14 people who protested the wastewater discharge by entering the Japanese embassy in Seoul, The Guardian News reports. To ensure the safety of its citizens and neighbours, Japan must do whatever it takes to prove that its action will not harm the environment or the people. Further examination is essential now.