Environment & Biodiversity

Facts and Controversies Regarding the Fukushima Water Release

  • The decision by Japan to dump cooling water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean has ignited a heated controversy.
  • Understanding the facts is critical in the face of concerns about radiation, environmental effect, and transparency.

About Fukushima Disaster

  • The Fukushima tragedy was the result of a succession of nuclear events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.
  • It came after a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
  • The incident caused the release of radioactive elements, which had serious consequences for both human health and the environment.
  • Along with the Chernobyl disaster, it is regarded as one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history.

Why Is Fukushima Water Being Discharged?

  • Storage constraints: Due to the requirement for ongoing cooling of damaged reactors after the 2011 tsunami disaster, the Fukushima facility’s storage tanks are at full capacity.
  • Large Water Volume: The facility requires 170 tonnes of cooling water each day, with rain and groundwater compounding the problem. The complex has 1,343 million cubic metres of water stored in 1,046 tanks.
  • Filtered water travels through a one-kilometer tunnel before exiting the Pacific Ocean. While the radioactive waste remains on land, this process is projected to take 30 years.

Regulatory Acceptance and Scepticism

  • Both Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have approved the discharge, citing low radiation impact.
  • Concerns and scepticism: Environmentalists, fishermen, neighbouring countries, and public opinion all accuse Japan of exaggerating radiation levels. Concerns include ocean contamination, ecological destruction, economic loss, and reputational injury.

Water Preparation and Tritium

  • Filter System: Contaminated water is filtered by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which can remove 62 radioactive elements but not tritium.
  • Tritium Dilution: Before discharging tritium, the plant agency aims to dilute it to 1,500 Becquerel per litre, a fraction of the safety level.
  • Tritium Safety: According to experts, tritium, a weak radioactive form of hydrogen, offers little harm because it produces weak beta particles that are easily blocked by materials such as plastic or skin.

#The Role of the Pacific Ocean and the Controversy

  • Dilution Principle: Experts emphasise that “the solution to pollution is dilution.” Water becomes safe for both humans and the environment when it is sufficiently diluted.
  • Greenpeace accuses the government and plant agencies of focusing on tritium to divert attention away from other radioactive elements that will not be filtered out.
  • Considerations and alternatives: There are alternatives, such as extra tanks or evaporation. However, concerns about tank breaches and radioactive discharges into the atmosphere complicate these choices.
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