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Environmental concerns of dumping Fukushima’s nuclear waste into Pacific ocean

Fukushima nuclear waste; Japan will release a million tons of water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean to dismantle

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Japan to release Fukushima water into the ocean starting August 24

Japan will release a million tons of water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean to dismantle the plant that was destroyed after the 2011 tsunami. The alternative to this solution was to evaporate the liquid.

The issue of what to do with the wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been a topic of great concern and controversy in Japan and around the world. The Japanese government has announced that it plans to release the treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, but many people, especially in neighbouring countries, are concerned about the potential environmental and health risks.

"Dumping the treated water is an unavoidable task to decommission the Fukushima plant and rebuild the area," Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced. In addition, Japan points out that similar processes are routinely carried out around the world. 

The operation could start in a couple of years and last for decades. However, the announcement comes now that 1.3 million tons of water are accumulated in the nuclear power plant, which is equivalent to 500 Olympic swimming pools. 

The storage space would be filled in 2022 and also the accumulation of this amount has an annual cost of 100 trillion yen ($912.66 million dollars). 

In 2013, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the Fukushima accident would not harm Japan's bid for the International Olympic Committee.  

Criticism of the move

The plant was damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and wastewater has been stored in tanks on-site ever since. However, space is running out and there are concerns about the potential environmental impact of releasing the water into the ocean.

(Fukushima nuclear waste) A protest march against nuclear power plants in Japan. Source: Flickr

However, this has been met with opposition from many countries in the region, including China and South Korea.

One of the reasons for the opposition is that the region has already been used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste in the past. Many countries in the region, such as the Marshall Islands and Palau, were used as nuclear weapons test sites during the Cold War and are still dealing with the environmental and health impacts of those tests.

Environmental impacts

The Japanese government's decision to release more than one million tons into the Pacific Ocean has raised concerns about potential environmental impacts.

The water to be released has been treated to remove most radioactive isotopes, but some radioactive substances, such as tritium, cannot be removed. While the levels of radioactivity in the water are said to be well below the safety standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still concerns about the potential impact on marine life and ecosystems in the Pacific Ocean.

Concerns about the potential health and environmental risks associated with the release of contaminated water. There are fears that the release of this water could harm marine life and ecosystems, as well as affect human health if contaminated fish are consumed.

(Fukushima nuclear waste) Water could harm marine life as well as affect human health if contaminated fish are consumed. Source: PIXNIO

There is a risk that the release of the contaminated water could harm fish and other marine organisms, which, in turn, could affect the food chain and the marine ecosystem in general. Also, the release of the contaminated water could lead to a loss of confidence in the safety of the area's seafood, which could have a significant economic impact on the fishing industry.

Overall, the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean is a complex problem with potential environmental, social, and economic implications. It is important that all measures are taken to ensure that risks are minimized and that the environment and human health are protected.

Human Health Risks

Wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant contains radioactive materials that may be hazardous to human health. The release of this water into the environment could potentially expose humans to these radioactive materials through a number of pathways.

Fukushima nuclear waste

Radioactive materials emit ionizing radiation, which can damage human cells and DNA. This damage can lead to a variety of health effects, including cancer, genetic mutations, and other radiation-related diseases.

Contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant contains several radioactive isotopes, including tritium, cesium, and strontium, among others. While some of these isotopes can decay rapidly, others can persist in the environment for long periods of time, posing a long-term risk to human health.

If contaminated fish is eaten, for example, radioactive isotopes can accumulate in the human body and potentially cause harm. In addition, the release of the contaminated water into the environment could contaminate groundwater and soil, which could affect crops and other sources of food.

Fukushima nuclear waste

How nuclear waste water is treated?

Japanese studies estimate that wastewater will dilute from hundreds of thousands of Bq per liter of tritium in storage tanks to 1,500 Bq per liter in discharge water. Diluting wastewater before it is discharged will reduce the radiation dose to people.

Radiation dose to people is measured in sieverts, or millionths of sieverts (microsieverts), where a dose of 1,000 microsieverts represents a one in 25,000 chance of dying prematurely from cancer. The estimated maximum dose of water discharged from Fukushima will be 3.9 microsieverts per year. This is much lower than the 2,400 microsieverts that people receive from natural radiation on average each year.

Fukushima nuclear waste

The Japanese authorities must also ensure that there are no significant amounts of "organically bound tritium" in the discharged water. This is where a tritium atom replaces ordinary hydrogen in an organic molecule. Organic molecules containing tritium can then be absorbed by sediments and ingested by marine organisms.

What are the alternatives?

One option that has been suggested in the past is to dispose of the contaminated water by sending it to a country willing to store it. However, this option is unlikely to be viable as there are very few countries that are willing to take on the risks and responsibility associated with storing nuclear waste.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the social and political implications of storing nuclear waste. Communities that live near nuclear waste storage facilities are often opposed to them, and there have been many cases where proposals for nuclear waste storage have been met with protests and resistance.

Another option is Ionic Exchange, this process consists of passing the contaminated water through a bed of resin that contains charged ions. The ions in the resin trade place with the radioactive ions in the water, effectively removing them from the water. The resin bed can then be regenerated, allowing it to be reused for further treatment.

Evaporation is one of the methods used to treat nuclear wastewater and involves evaporating the water to remove contaminants. The evaporation process involves heating contaminated water until it vaporizes, leaving behind solid waste. This solid waste can then be further treated and disposed of safely.

The advantage of this method is that it reduces the volume of radioactive waste and produces a solid residue that is easier to handle and dispose of. However, it requires a lot of power and can be expensive to run.

Despite being radioactive, opinions differ as to whether tritium is considered dangerous to human health. On the one hand, a 2013 scientific article cited by Reuters indicates that the intake of high amounts can pose a risk of cancer. 

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