Japan will release treated water into the ocean

Fisherman Haruo Ono’s fishing boats are pictured on August 21, 2023 at Tsurushihama Fishing Port in Shinchi-machi, Fukushima Prefecture, about 60 km north of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Philip Fong | Afp | Getty Images

Japan is expected to begin releasing large amounts of treated radioactive water from the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, a highly controversial move that has drawn sharp criticism from neighboring countries.

The imminent release comes more than a decade after Japan was rocked by its second-worst nuclear disaster in history. A powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, located on Japan’s east coast, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of the capital, Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said earlier this week that the country had about 1.3 million metric tons of treated wastewater from the stricken Fukushima power plant — enough to fill about 500 Olympic-size swimming pools — depending on the weather. conditions.

The Japanese government has repeatedly said it is safe to release the treated water, and the UN nuclear watchdog has approved the move. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in early July that Tokyo’s plans were in line with international standards and would have “negligible” impacts on people and the environment. The process will take decades to complete.

However, neighboring countries are not happy.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) speaks during a meeting with representatives of the Inter-Ministerial Council on Contaminated Water, Treated Water and Exploitation and the Inter-Ministerial Council on the Sustainable Implementation of the Basic Policy to Combat Treated Water with ALPS. At the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, Japan on August 22, 2023. (Photo by Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Zuma Press/Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Rodrigo Reyes Marin | Zuma Press | Pool | Anatolia Agency | Getty Images

Local fishing groups and UN human rights experts have raised concerns about the potential threat to the marine environment and public health, while campaigners say not all possible impacts have been studied.

Japan says the process of releasing filtered and diluted water is a necessary step in decommissioning the plant and requires a relatively quick solution, as the storage tanks holding the treated water will soon reach capacity.

Regionally, China has emerged as one of the fiercest opponents of Japan’s plans.

“Too selfish and irresponsible”

On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Tokyo of being “extremely selfish and irresponsible” by continuing to dispose of the water, adding that the ocean should be treated as “a common resource for humanity, not a sewer for Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water.” .”

Wang said at a press conference: “China urges Japan to stop its illegal actions, cancel its ocean dumping plan, communicate with neighboring countries with sincerity and goodwill, dispose of nuclear contaminated water responsibly, and accept strict international supervision.”

A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in London did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee, is “strongly opposed” to the discharge of waste water from the Fukushima power plant. In response to Japan’s announcement, Hong Kong announced import restrictions on some Japanese food products.

South Korean protesters take part in a rally against the Japanese government’s decision to release treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean on August 22, 2023 in Seoul, South Korea.

Chung Sung-jun | Getty Images News | Getty Images

South Korea, sometimes the lone voice of regional support for Japan, said it saw no scientific problems with the plan to release the treated water. The government “does not necessarily agree with or support the plan,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

In South Korea, hundreds of activists gathered in the capital of Seoul earlier this month against Japan’s plan to dump treated water into the ocean.

Both China and South Korea have banned fish imports from around Fukushima.

What did the researchers say?

Nigel Marks, an associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, said the Fukushima water problem boils down to tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that occurs naturally in the environment and is released as part of the regular operation of nuclear power plants.

“Fukushima’s much higher-than-planned release of tritium has been occurring for nearly six decades with a perfect safety record,” Marks told CNBC via email.

It “begs the question of how the Fukushima water became such a PR nightmare given that tritium is essentially harmless from a radiation safety perspective,” he said. “The main problem is that the release sounds bad. The typical person doesn’t know that their body is radioactive, they don’t know how much radiation is too much or how little.”

“At this point science has to step in and have a say – after all, tritium is produced in the upper atmosphere every day; in fact, one year of Fukushima water contains the same amount of tritium as four hours of rainfall on Earth,” Marks said.

“That’s the main reason the Fukushima water is safe – we already have a small amount of tritium around (it doesn’t do anything harmless) and a hit from a small extra part wouldn’t matter.”

Fisherman Haruo Ono stands on one of his fishing boats at Tsurushihama Fishing Port in Shinchi-machi, Fukushima Prefecture, about 60 km north of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on August 21, 2023, before the government plans to start releasing treated water. plant to the Pacific Ocean.

Philip Fong | Afp | Getty Images

Tony Hooker, director of the Center for Radiation Research, Education and Innovation at the University of Adelaide in Australia, welcomed the news of Japan’s expected release of treated water. He added that the likely comprehensive environmental monitoring around the Fukushima release site should help alleviate some of the public fear.

“I would like to reiterate that the release of tritium from nuclear facilities into waterways is and has been done worldwide with no evidence of environmental or human health harm,” Hooker told CNBC in an email.

“While the plan is scientifically sound and robust, emphasis should be placed on independent testing and regulatory oversight, including environmental monitoring, to ensure that other radionuclides are not inadvertently released,” he said. “It will also, I hope, satisfy public confidence in freedom.”

‘Deeply disappointed’

Fisheries groups in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines have criticized the release of treated wastewater from the nuclear plant, fearing it could affect regional resources and the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Analysts at environmental campaign group Greenpeace said they were “deeply disappointed and outraged” by Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

“Instead of engaging in an honest debate about this reality, the Japanese government has chosen a false solution to decades of deliberate radioactive contamination of the marine environment at a time when the world’s oceans are already under enormous stress and pressure,” Shaun said. Burnie, Greenpeace East Asia Senior Nuclear Specialist.

“This is an outrage that violates the human rights of the people and communities of Fukushima, other neighboring prefectures and the wider Asia-Pacific region.”

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