China and South Korea have vehemently criticized Japan’s decision to release wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, with environmental activists accusing Tokyo of “nuclear terrorism”.
The Japanese government has taken the move as part of decommissioning process of the nuclear power plant.
Ten years ago, in March 2011, Japan had faced one of the major nuclear disasters in history when a tsunami prevented the cooling of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, releasing about 940 PBq of radiation, and forcing more than 150,000 people to evacuate the area.
While no immediate deaths were recorded, dozens were injured in the explosions at the plant.
The Japanese government has said the latest move is based “on the premise of strict compliance with regulatory standards that have been established, we select oceanic release.” The proposal assures the government’s commitment to set guidelines, transparency, monitoring, and compensation for any losses. The US has supported Japanese transparency in the decommissioning process.
The filtered water will be released only after approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Tokyo said. Consequently, the government, including its agricultural, forestry, and fisheries sectors and its local counterparts, will monitor the nearby seawater to ensure its quality. Expert opinion will also be sought.
The main issue is the inability to filter tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen. To reach the level suggested in WHO’s guidelines, the contaminated water will be diluted with seawater in a 1:100 ratio.
I welcome Japan's announcement on how it will dispose of the treated water stored at #Fukushima nuclear power plant. @IAEAorg will work w/ ?? before, during & after the discharge of the water to help ensure this is carried out without an adverse impact on health & environment.1/2 pic.twitter.com/qLJxrPXCje
— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) April 13, 2021
The release of tritium-contained water is not unique to Fukushima but followed by all countries with nuclear facilities. Japan’s method of dealing with the issue has the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But environmental rights activists question whether tritium is as harmless as it is marketed.
#Japan ALPS treatment does not remove tritium from water. Some scientists say its radiation is very low. Other scientists warn that tritium's hazards are underestimated and will expose people and the environment to risk for over 100 years #fukushima
— Marcos A Orellana (@SRtoxics) April 13, 2021
Chinese and South Korean skepticism about Japanese transparency might have some ground. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) acknowledged only in July 2013 that about 300 tons of contaminated water had been pouring into the sea daily after the accident despite governmental effort to create barriers in the soil. This time too, TEPCO has been put in charge of the decontamination process.
South Korea held an emergency meeting on this topic while its Jeju Province’s governor has threatened to register a complaint at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). China’s state-owned Global Times called the lack of western criticism against the Japanese decision as ideologically based and showcasing double standards.
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) April 13, 2021
A Greenpeace report has called the move one “that will have serious, long-term consequences for communities and the environment, locally and much further afield.” According to Al-Jazeera, some protestors in South Korea, a country already at odds with its neighbor their colonial past, are calling this move by the Japanese government “nuclear terrorism”.
While the Japanese government has approved the proposal, the actual task will begin only after two years and the entire process will probably take decades. More backlash, especially from the fishing community, is expected. It is yet to be seen whether the plan will be altered in face of such backlash.