Recent headlines have been filled with the news of a significant amount of radioactive water, estimated to be around a million tonnes, planned to be dumped by Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The water has been stored in metal tanks since 2011, a year marked by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami which caused significant devastation in parts of Japan, including the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This event was declared the worst nuclear disaster in history, second only to Chernobyl.
In the aftermath of the incident, more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water was contaminated. The water became radioactive due to a power supply failure caused by the tsunami, triggering a chain reaction that led to the meltdown of three reactor cores in the nuclear plant.
As these cores contain all of the nuclear fuel and generate all the heat, a huge amount of water was used to cool them down, became highly radioactive. Moreover, contamination was spilling out from the plant into nearby waterways, which needed to be pumped out and stored in tanks.
Japan has expressed that it can no longer accommodate the contaminated water and has received permission to release the radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. The United Nations has endorsed this plan, considering the risk to be low. The Tokyo Electric Power Company now intends to dilute the nuclear wastewater with seawater until the radiation levels drop below regulatory limits prior to discharging it into the ocean. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, this treated water will have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.
Despite these assurances, Japan’s neighbours, South Korea and China, have been vocal in their opposition to the release, as have Japan’s fisheries unions. These groups have claimed that the treated water could have a catastrophic impact on the industry. Greenpeace has also voiced concerns, arguing that the current plans for the treated water’s release do not sufficiently remove radioactive substances. The water is planned to be discharged through an underwater tunnel about a kilometre from the coast of Japan, intentionally away from popular fishing areas.
The process of releasing this treated water is projected to take at least 30 years.