Japan to either dump contaminated water into ocean or release it as steam

Posted on : 2019-12-24 18:10 KST Modified on : 2019-12-24 18:15 KST
Studies show treated water is still highly radioactive
Storage tanks for contaminated water from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Image was taken in 2017. (photo pool)
Storage tanks for contaminated water from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Image was taken in 2017. (photo pool)

The Japanese government is narrowing down its plans for the disposal of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to two possible approaches: an ocean dump or steam release.

An expert subcommittee established in the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to discuss measures for disposal of contaminated water announced three possible plans for disposing of the Fukushima water: releasing it into the ocean, evaporating it and releasing it into the atmosphere, or using both approaches simultaneously. While no final conclusion has been reached, the announcement indicates that it is moving toward a release of contaminated water into the ocean.

In particular, the expert subcommittee ruled out the possibility of an underground disposal, which had previously been under consideration. The subcommittee has been considering contaminated water disposal methods since 2016, with its secretariat responsible for compiling a draft report announced on Dec. 23. Regarding the schedule and duration of the contaminated water’s release, the report only said that the Japanese government would “take responsibility for deciding the matter.” In view of the amount of water to be disposed of, however, it predicted that the process would take at least 10 years.

Even with Japan, many are voicing concerns about the government leaning toward an ocean dump of the contaminated water.

“It’s too soon for an ocean dump. It will have an impact on our successors in the fishing industry,” the chairperson of a fishing industry cooperative in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, was quoted as saying by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

Once the expert subcommittee produces a final opinion on the contaminated water disposal schedule, the Japanese government plans to use it as a basis for determining its basic policy approach and proceed into hearing opinions from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) shareholders and members of the public.

Around 170 tons of radioactively contaminated water is being produced each day at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant due to the infiltration of underground water since a 2011 disaster that caused the leakage of radioactivity. Around 1.7 million tons of it is currently being stored in water tanks. The Japanese government has been strongly considering dumping the water into the ocean, explaining that the amount of space available for storage will run out by late 2022.

The Japanese government is referring to the contaminated water as “processed water,” as it has been purified with a multi-nuclide removal equipment (ALPS) system to reduce 62 types of radioactive substances (not including tritium) to below threshold levels.

But controversy has raged since a September 2018 study of 890,000 tons of Fukushima water that had undergone ALPS purification (a total of 950,000 tons) showed that 750,000 tons of it, or more than 80%, still contained radioactive substances above the threshold levels for release.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

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

Caption: Storage tanks for contaminated water from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Image was taken in 2017. (photo pool)

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