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Japan Releases Treated Fukushima Daichi Wastewater into Pacific Ocean

First Step in TEPCO’s Long-term Strategy Garners Approval, Condemnation


Two types of wastewater tanks at Fukushima Daichi facility are shown in the background.  ©IAEA/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0
Two types of wastewater tanks at Fukushima Daichi facility are shown in the background. ©IAEA/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Japan’s now-defunct Fukushima Daichi nuclear facility, destroyed during the catastrophic 2011 tsunami that struck the nation’s northeast coast, recently reported its first-ever release of treated, radioactive wastewater into the nearby Pacific Ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, said that it had completed the release of 7,800 tons of treated water from ten tanks in a discharge that spanned seventeen days, beginning on August 24.

Despite safety reassurances by the plant’s operator, scientists, and the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the move was condemned by Japanese fishermen, environmental activists, and the Chinese government, which responded by banning imports of Japanese seafood.

However, Prof. Jim Smith, an environmental scientist at the UK’s University of Portsmouth who specializes in the consequences of radioactive pollutants in the environment, was quoted in a news brief by NPR, saying, “I would call it not a risk at all.” We've got to put radiation in perspective, and the plant release—if it's done properly—then the doses that people get and the doses that the ecosystem get just won't be significant, in my opinion,” Prof. Smith said.

Less optimistic is Edwin Lyman, a nuclear power safety expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. The “current plan, unfortunately, is probably the least bad of a bunch of bad options,” he says.

Japanese fishermen are adamantly opposed to the release, based on its feared impact on their livelihoods, even if it is safe. Not long after the release began, they filed suit in Fukushima District Court to halt it, according to AP World News.

This first release, part of a long-term strategy, is not likely to be the last. US News and World Report says more than 1.25 million tons of radioactive wastewater are stored in nearly 1,000 tanks at the facility.

According to the IAEA, TEPCO evaluated potential exposure of the public, assuming two possible accident scenarios: “one where about 10,000 m3 of undiluted treated water leaks from 1 tank group into the sea accidentally over 20 days, and one where about 30,000 m3 of undiluted treated water is accidentally discharged over one day from 3 tank groups.”

The radiation dose calculated for an adult, says the IAEA, is “in the range of 0.0002 (2E-04) mSv to 0.01(1E-02) mSv” for both accident scenarios. In both, TEPCO “conservatively assessed all exposure pathways, and confirmed that the exposure of the representative person living near the power plant would be well below 5 mSv per event,” which is consistent with the established international safety standards in the event of an accident.

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