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Japan faces increasing pressure to reconsider Fukushima’s discharge of wastewater into the ocean – The Diplomat


The Japanese government’s decision to release contaminated water from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the sea has drawn fierce opposition from neighboring China and South Korea over the risks that the country has taken. Radiation treatment can cause public health problems.

The Japanese government has assigned Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to carry out the installation of equipment necessary to release contaminated water, which is expected to take two years.

China and South Korea, two countries with a maritime border with Japan, condemned the decision to be detrimental not only to the environment but also to the health of those living nearby. Both countries said they would take the necessary actions to prevent the release of the water.

China has strengthened its stance saying that water should not be released without the permission of other countries. In a statement, China stressed that “Japan addresses the concerns of the international community, its neighbors and its own people”. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Japan to “take responsible action to protect the international public interests as well as the health and safety of the Chinese people”.

On Wednesday, tensions seemed to have escalated when Foreign Ministry spokesperson of China Not only emphasized that “the Pacific is not the sewer of Japan” but also dared a Japanese official to drink the water discharged by Fukushima Daiichi to prove its safety. The Japanese deputy prime minister replied “there is nothing wrong with drinking it” and also added fuel to the fire when saying that the decision to drain water should be made earlier.

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South Korea, for its part, has urged Japan to take concrete measures to prevent damage and is considering filing a lawsuit with the International Court of Land and Sea. Meanwhile, Russia and Taiwan have engaged in a growing chorus of international opposition.

TEPCO spent 10 years decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi. A large part of the operation required pumping water daily to cool the molten nuclear fuel rods trapped in the three damaged reactors.

This process produces water with a high concentration of radioactive material, up 170 tons per day. Currently, there are more than 1,000 tanks holding 1.23 million tons of wastewater on site, enough to fill 500 Olympic swimming pools or the Tokyo Dome Sports Stadium. Unless the polluted water source is found a new home, the current storage site is expected to reach capacity by 2022, which would hinder the next phase of decommissioning. .

The radioactive water is treated through a complex filtration system called “ALPS”. Created in 2013, the system is designed to remove nearly all 63 types of radioactive elements except for one isotope, called tritium, that remains in water. Tritium is considered to be the least radioactive and least toxic of all radioactive elements and is believed to be hazardous to humans only in very large quantities.

The Japanese government says the filtration process is completely safe and the United States has also supported the move by meeting all international nuclear regulations. Japan plans to further dilute tritium-contaminated water with seawater to reduce concentrations below national standards and to one-seventh of the recommended levels of the World Health Organization’s safety standards for water. to drink.

But TEPCO’s reputation has been damaged by a series of safety breaches recently, This raises concerns that safety standards could be breached during water treatment. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said the government would “ensure the safety of the treated water and will take all steps to dispel false rumors.” But local fishing groups say the government has yet to explain what specific measures will be taken to prevent misinformation and rumors about Fukushima’s seafood and agricultural products.

There are also suspicions that the level of tritium remaining in the contaminated water will be much higher than promised, which has led to the proposal that an independent agency check the tritium concentration in each tank before discharge Ocean.

Environmental groups including the Green Peace organization have long expressed their opposition to the idea of ​​releasing contaminated water into the oceans and considered it a “betrayal” of the people of Fukushima. The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations called the decision “regrettable and unacceptable” and expressed concern that they would not be able to sell seafood from the region both domestically and abroad. . The fishing industry has struggled to recover from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was made worse by import restrictions on Japanese seafood and agricultural products currently being maintained in 15 countries. countries include China, South Korea and the European Union.

Tritium contaminated water from nuclear facilities is not unique to Fukushima Daiichi. In fact, countries with nuclear facilities often release tritium into the sea and the atmosphere. Tritium emissions vary by country regulation and at this stage no significant health or environmental impacts have been identified as a result of these methods. The Japanese government has also pointed out the hypocrisy of both South Korea’s Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant and China’s Daya Nuclear Power Plant has a history of tritium release. Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi emphasized that ocean treatment is done around the world and “is not new and not a scandal”.

In 2015, TEPCO and the government made a promise to the Fukushima fishing industry that polluted water would not be released into the sea without prior understanding from stakeholders. In February 2020, the subcommittee released a report identifying ocean waste disposal as the “most reliable” solution, followed by seven meetings with local authorities as well as agricultural sectors. industry, forestry and fisheries. The fishing industry has criticized the government for unilaterally making a decision and questioning how to define the final area for fish release without final general approval.

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The Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry acknowledges that treated water is a serious problem for the reconstruction efforts in Fukushima Prefecture but has not been able to quell the resistance of the fishing industry by pledging to “Take the initiative to ensure reconstruction efforts will not go to waste. “Minister Kajiyama Hiroshi said that the next two years will provide an opportunity for the government to formulate a strategy against the rumors.

Since 2013, a subcommittee of METI experts has been investigating how to treat treated water. The ocean drop is one of five proposals under consideration, including releasing water into the atmosphere through evaporation or hydrolysis, pumping contaminated water deep underground or mixing it with cement and burying it. ground. There are also considerations about continuing to store water in tanks or developing technology to separate and remove tritium from the water. But the subcommittee concluded that the practical application of the technology to separate tritium has not yet developed.

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