Japanese politicians and authorities have been roughed up (verbally) by the Chinese foreign ministry as former has asked the latter to establish the cleanliness of Fukushima wastewater by drinking, cooking, washing clothes and in irrigation before loosening the valve titled towards the ocean. As on Thursday, April 15th, Mr. Zhao Lijian, in the strong capacity as the foreign ministry spokesman, re-stressed Chinese opposition to Tokyo’s plan to release abundance of nuclear wastewater, say about 1 million tons into the ocean which Japanese claim to have treated otherwise. Reaching out to international climate agencies, the spokesman reiterated, “Japan’s claims that the safety of nuclear wastewater relies only on unilaterally obtained data, which is completely unconvincing…The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which is responsible for operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has tampered with data and concealed the news.”
Commenting on the proposal, on their part, PM Yoshihide Saga termed the decision as “realistic solution” as there is felt shortage of water storage facilities and the said water is soaked in radioactive debris which is just a leftover of a deadly incidence that had shaken the world nearly a decade ago.
Tightening the noose on Japanese leaders over their grave miscalculation, that could endanger the marine life and can harm humans alike. Initially, Mr. Spokesman won support from German marine science institute which claimed that the coast of Fukushima has fierce and powerful oceanic currents, “Within 57 days from the date of discharge, radioactive substances will spread to most of the Pacific Ocean, and spread to the global waters in 10 years.“, Mr. Zhao clarified.
Now, citing their inability to store the liquid anymore, Japanese authorities declared about the move and which would start in about 2 years time frame. As is obvious, the decision drew flak from all and sundry, from every quarter of the world and widespread condemnation too, especially from its neighbours.
Just last year, Greenpeace had stepped forward putting claims which were backed by strong evidence that the so-called treated water is still soaked in “dangerous levels of carbon-14”, i.e. a radioactive substance which, “can damage the human DNA.” And since its meltdown in 2011, it is estimated that over a million tons of wastewater carries radioactive tritium. A publication is circulated by Greenpeace, under the title “Stemming the tide 2020: The Reality of Fukushima Water Crisis”.
Echoing similar sentiments, South Korea summoned Japanese ambassador and lodged a strong protest against the move and asked to reconsider the decision.
For the purpose of cleaning up, sanitisation and management of Fukushima power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company is put the responsibility upon its shoulders for such a large amount of wastewater, which is siloed in certain water tanks. Such water is mixture of water poured onto it during past years as well as ground water that flowed into it sweeping remaining contaminants along. Citing its inability, TEPCO declares releasing the water into ocean, bit by bit, in two years from now and it would nearly take 30 years to finish dumping whole of it completely.
Is This Acceptable?
Is it or is this something one can turn a blind eye upon? Well, USA and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), terming it as “technically feasible and in-line with the international practice”, stand in support of the decision terming, while China and South Korea are in strong disapproval.
Sea dumping appears to be the only solution to get rid of water with high concentration of tritium, which is a radioactive isotope and has the tendency to bond with the water. Voice from Hong Kong, Luk Bing Lam, chairman, Hong Kong’s Nuclear Society, opines, ”every nuclear power plant will do it every so often”. He further adds, “If it was purely tritium water then it wouldn’t be a problem. But the core of the Fukushima power plant was damaged, so the water contaminated by the site contains hundreds of different chemicals, some of which are highly radioactive and dangerous”.
What About Safety?
It is feared that once into the free-flowing sea, contaminants consumed by fishes destruct our food chain and can affect fishery industry. Even so, that Japan Fisheries Cooperation chairman Hiroshi Kishi termed TEPCO’s proposal as “absolutely unacceptable”.
TEPCO, in 2018 declared second treatment of 70% of water so as to satisfy decontamination levels as are set by law, before releasing it into water. Notwithstanding, TEPCO’s own credibility has been under doubt as it has failed to appear clean, spotless and transparent on the issue before the world. For instance, it claims to have used ALPS system, which stands for Advanced Liquid Processing System) to siphon out radioactive elements during water treatment. But Mr. Luk puts a question mark on such claim stating none in the nuclear industry globally has ever heard about the functioning of such system. He clarified further, ”They’re not sure how effective the ALPS is, and no filteration system is 100% effective”.
TEPCO states dismantling the Fukushima nuclear power plant is priority and the remains would be kept safely but such tremendous amount of water rains over their efforts and intent.
However, as an alternative, another storage silos could be built at some other location to store water but then opposition would be expected from locals. Environmentalists also argue that if kept for longer period of time, radioactive isotopes would decay and would thus be less-harmful than it is now.
But then, such storage tank involves leakage issue and repair and maintenance is expensive affair too. Mr. Luk again unclutters, “It’s a very difficult dilemma. Contaminated liquid is the worst thing to handle, because it’s so hard to contain. Obviously, Japan needs to sort out the problem as quickly as possible, but there are very few options for what to do”.
Whatever the case may be, but China is on simmer and has termed Japanese decision as “extremely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable”.