Convey safety of treated water’s ocean release to global community

The release of the treated water stored at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will be conducted via an internationally recognized method. Japan needs to improve its messaging to the international community about the appropriateness of the release.

The treated water to be released is groundwater that came into contact with melted fuel at the power plant and has undergone a purification process. It contains trace amounts of the radioactive substance tritium, and is currently being stored in 1,000 tanks.

Tritium has no effect on the environment or human health unless the release level is significantly higher than the standard. Ocean release is currently being conducted at nuclear power plants around the world.

The method is approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, and the decision to release the water into the ocean is a reasonable one.

It is technically difficult to remove tritium from a large amount of water. Considering the fact that the tanks are getting full, it is not practical to continue storing the water any longer.

China, however, has expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with Japan’s decision. South Korea has also criticized the decision, calling it “unacceptable,” and suggested bringing the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. China and South Korea are also releasing water containing tritium into the ocean. Their claims are nothing but unreasonable.

Tritium occurs in the natural environment and emits a weak form of radiation. In addition, the government plans to dilute the amount of tritium to one-fortieth of the standard out of concerns over reputational damage. The level is lower than the World Health Organization’s drinking water standard.

The Japanese government must respond resolutely to words and actions that ignore these points and unnecessarily stir up hostile feelings. Fifteen economies, including China and South Korea, have been imposing restrictions on imports of Japanese marine products even before the issue of treated water arose. It is important to persistently demand the removal of these restrictions.

The nature of tritium and how the water is released is not well understood even in Japan. This may be due to the public’s distrust of the government and TEPCO over the handling of the nuclear accident.

The government must meticulously explain domestically and abroad that tritium at a level within the standard will not affect marine products. This will also help prevent damaging rumors in Japan. The government must strengthen its efforts to disseminate information in English to call for understanding among international public opinion.

The release of the water into the ocean will start in two years. In order to increase the reliability and transparency of the work, it is important to establish a system for monitoring water quality.

In addition to TEPCO and the government, the IAEA as well as China and South Korea could be involved in the monitoring. A system to verify the safety of the treated water from a wide range of angles must be established.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 25, 2021.