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Japan to release Fukushima radioactive water into the Ocean, raising concerns about Environmental impact


Japan will soon initiate the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the ocean, as authorized by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog. This controversial plan comes 12 years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. While the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) argue that the treated water will meet international safety standards, concerns persist among neighboring countries and local residents.

The Fukushima disaster in 2011 resulted in overheated reactor cores and contaminated water within the plant with highly radioactive material. Since then, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the state-owned electricity firm, has stored over 1.32 million metric tons of wastewater in massive tanks. However, with limited space for additional tanks, the need to free up storage capacity for the decommissioning process has prompted the decision to release the treated water.

TEPCO asserts that the majority of dangerous elements can be removed from the water through treatment. However, the presence of a hydrogen isotope called radioactive tritium poses a challenge since no technology currently exists to eliminate it. Japanese authorities and the IAEA propose a slow and highly diluted release of the wastewater over several decades. They argue that the concentration of tritium will be within or lower than the levels allowed by other countries and international regulations.

Opinions among experts are divided. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission states that tritium, while unable to penetrate the skin, can increase cancer risks if consumed in large quantities. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledges that any exposure to radiation carries some health risk, but emphasizes that tritium is naturally present in various environmental sources. Robert H. Richmond, director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, is part of a group of scientists assessing the plan’s implications. He expresses concerns about the potential bioaccumulation of pollutants in the marine ecosystem and highlights the existing stressors on the world’s oceans.

To prepare the water for release, it will undergo treatment to remove harmful elements, followed by a measurement of its remaining radioactivity. The water will then be diluted to contain 1,500 becquerels of tritium per liter, significantly lower than Japan’s regulatory limit of 60,000 becquerels per liter. The diluted water will be discharged into the Pacific Ocean through an undersea tunnel, while third-party organizations like the IAEA will monitor the process.

Responses from other countries have been mixed. The US has expressed support for Japan, citing transparency and adherence to global nuclear safety standards. Taiwan believes the impact on its territory will be minimal. However, China has raised concerns about potential harm to the marine environment and human health, emphasizing that the Pacific Ocean should not be treated as a dumping ground. The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum has also voiced apprehension, calling for more data before permitting the ocean release.

Public sentiment varies. In Japan, a survey found that 51% of respondents supported the wastewater release, while 41% opposed it. Residents of Tokyo protested against the plan earlier this year, and fishermen in Fukushima have consistently opposed it, fearing further damage to their industry and livelihoods. Neighboring countries, including South Korea, have witnessed protests and increased scrutiny of seafood imports from Fukushima.

As the release of Fukushima’s radioactive water into the ocean approaches, the concerns and debates surrounding its potential environmental impact persist. The long-term consequences on marine ecosystems and the fishing industry, as well as the global response to such releases, remain subjects of ongoing scrutiny and research.

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