Japan’s decision to dump Fukushima water is based on biased data, argue scientists

Posted on : 2023-01-27 16:32 KST Modified on : 2023-01-27 16:46 KST
A panel of global experts is urging Japan to halt its plans to dump the radioactive water
Numerous tanks currently store contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. (Yonhap)
Numerous tanks currently store contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. (Yonhap)

A panel of scientists is arguing that the Japanese government’s decision to discharge radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean is based on incomplete and biased data.

The experts contend that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant, concluded that the contaminated water was safe without properly measuring a significant number of radioactive materials (nuclides). The discharge of the wastewater from the Fukushima plant could begin as soon as this coming spring.

This latest analysis comes from a panel of scientists organized by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), an intergovernmental organization made up of 18 Pacific Island countries including New Zealand and Fiji.

These scientists are recommending the Japanese government cease its plans to release the wastewater from the nuclear plant into the ocean and instead seek alternative options.

At a debate held at Korea’s National Assembly on Thursday, the scientists stressed that TEPCO’s contaminated water measurement data cannot function as the basis for deciding on the release of the wastewater into the ocean.

The panel of scientists, including five experts in nuclear energy and oceanography, was formed last March by the PIF. As parties with a direct stake in the consequences of the potential discharge of Fukushima wastewater, the PIF requested relevant information and data from Japan regarding this issue.

On Jan. 13, the Japanese government decided to dilute 1.3 million tons of contaminated water stored in over 1,000 tanks at the Fukushima plant with water and then to release it into the ocean either this coming spring or summer.

“The data provided by Japan to the forum is incomplete, inadequate, inconsistent, and biased, making it unsuitable for making any decisions,” said Dr. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, an adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and head of the panel of scientists.

“Since wastewater is not being released into nature in a planned or controlled way from a normally functioning power plant, in this case the word ‘dumping’ should be used instead of the ‘release’ of wastewater,” Dalnoki-Veress said.

The reason the panel believes the data provided by TEPCO is biased is that TEPCO is focusing only on nine materials, including strontium and cesium, among a total of 64 radioactive materials. The remaining 55, which were not measured, are presumed to be always present with the same effect.

The panel of scientists also pointed out that it is not enough to gauge the actual composition and concentration levels of the wastewater as the measurement of materials was performed on a 30-liter sample just before the water in the storage tanks to be treated with the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) were full.

In a report published by the panel on this issue, the scientists raised fundamental questions about the reliability of the Japanese data, saying there are “many abnormal and suspicious measurement values in TEPCO’s measurement data.”

For example, the panel pointed out that measurements for tellurium (Te)-127, a radionuclide with a half-life of only 9.4 hours, ranged from hundreds of thousands to nearly tens of billions of becquerels (Bq) per liter. This is because, if it had been released during the Fukushima accident, it would have broken down a long time ago in terms of its half-life.

“Unless the core is intermittently in a dangerous state of meltdown, these measurements indicate problems with TEPCO’s measurement and data quality control procedures,” the report stated.

The panel also pointed out the major problem that issues such as how tritium present in the wastewater is changed into organic-bonded tritium in the sea, which will affect the marine ecosystem, or the effects of strontium-90’s bioconcentration, are not being properly examined.

“The assumption that dilution is the solution to pollution is scientifically outdated and ecologically inadequate,” the panel said. “The [wastewater] dumping measures are an issue that transcends generations and borders and require much greater contemplation,” they added.

As an alternative to releasing the polluted water into the ocean, the scientists recommended the wastewater be stored for a long time to reduce its radioactivity levels until the polluting elements can be removed using biological methods such as employing animals, plants and fungi. After this, the treated water could be used in the process of making concrete in places with as little human contact as possible.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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