Misinformation must be filtered out over plan to release N-plant water

REUTERS/Sakura Murakami
The storage tanks for treated water are seen at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan March 1 2021.

A plan has been finalized on the release into the ocean of treated water stored in tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. must provide detailed explanations that the release is safe and then implement the procedures steadily.

On the premises of the plant, groundwater has come into contact with melted fuel inside the reactors, generating contaminated water. The contaminated water is first purified with special equipment and then stored in tanks as treated water. There are already over 1,000 such tanks, causing concerns that they will impede the decommissioning work.

The government decided in April to release the treated water into the ocean. In response to the decision, TEPCO decided to release the treated water about one kilometer off the coast, via an undersea tunnel. The utility company aims to start the release in 2023. A plan will soon be submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for approval.

The company also considered releasing the treated water directly from the plant site into the sea. However, it was feared that some of the released water might be drawn back into the plant through the intake system, so TEPCO opted for the offshore method. The decision apparently reflects the company’s thinking that it would face less opposition from fishermen, compared to a release from the coast.

The project will require large-scale construction work to dig a 2.5-meter-diameter tunnel in the seabed. The storage capacity for the treated water is approaching its limit. It is hoped that TEPCO will implement the necessary procedures smoothly so there will not be any delay in the water release.

The treated water contains tritium, a radioactive substance that cannot be removed by the purification system. There are concerns for harmful rumors, claiming that the release will cause marine pollution, for example. However, tritium is also found naturally in the environment, and an extremely small amount of the substance can have no adverse effects on the environment or human bodies.

Releasing treated water into the ocean is a common practice among nuclear facilities in various countries.

Before its release, the treated water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is to be diluted with seawater so that the level of tritium is below one-seventh of the World Health Organization’s standard for drinking water. It is important that such facts be widely understood by people both in and outside of Japan.

The government has announced a plan to set up a fund to purchase frozen seafood in case there is a tangible impact on fisheries, such as a drop in sales of marine products.

It will also make efforts to certify the safety of fishery products and provide support in expanding their market, as well as to analyze the content and sources of information that could lead to reputational damage.

Those related to the fishing industry have suffered as sales of seafood declined drastically after the nuclear accident. Now that the sales are on a recovery trend, all possible measures against harmful rumors should be taken so that these people do not face hardships again.

TEPCO has yet to fully recover public trust. China and South Korea have been overly critical of the water release, claiming it would be dangerous and fueling public fears. It would be effective for the government and third-party organizations to monitor the surrounding waters, and also to have the International Atomic Energy Agency make evaluations of the situation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 31, 2021.