“The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency, editor’s note) has concluded that the approach and activities for the discharge of treated water (…) meet the relevant international safety standards. In its latest report presented Tuesday, July 4 in Tokyo, on the occasion of the visit of its boss, Rafael Grossi, the international agency officially gave its approval to the Japanese plan.
The beginning of the discharge of water stored for years is planned for this summer, without any specific date having been announced. “The controlled and gradual releases of treated water into the sea (…) would have a negligible radiological impact on the population and the environment”, further specifies the IAEA report.
1.3 million cubic meters of radioactive water
On March 11, 2011, the double earthquake-tsunami disaster caused the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima power plant – the most serious nuclear accident since that of Chernobyl, in Ukraine (April 1986). Before achieving the “decommissioning” (decontamination and closure) of the plant, which will take decades, the urgency is elsewhere.
In reactors 1 and 2, the fuel needs to be permanently cooled by the injection of huge quantities of water that has become radioactive (containing cesium, tritium, strontium, carbon) and which has been accumulating for more than ten years. 1.3 million cubic meters of radioactive water are now stored in a thousand huge tanks which are almost full (96% of them are full). “We no longer have room to store water, and there is not enough space on the site to install new cisterns,” Yamanaka Kazuo, one of the engineers working on the site, told us a few months ago.
“30% of this water has already been treated for the first time by a special system, assures Junichi Matsumoto, senior manager of the Tepco company in charge of water decontamination at the plant, and we will filter it once again to obtain a rate radioactivity of 1,500 becquerels/litre(1), well below international standards. It is precisely this level of radioactivity that the IAEA has been analyzing for two years.
Concerns from Japan’s neighbors
“The IAEA’s review, which is the authoritative authority on the management and application of nuclear safety standards, is essential in our efforts to promote good international understanding,” the government spokesman said on Tuesday July 4. Hirokazu Matsuno. “It is likely that no impact on the environment or human health will be observed”, estimates, cautiously, Tony Hooker, of the Center for Radiation Research at the University of Adelaide (Australia). Asked by AFP, however, he considers the Japanese project “solid”. For Jim Smith, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom), fears about the risks to the ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean “are not based on scientific evidence”.
This highly controversial discharge is strongly criticized by Beijing, while in South Korea the price of salt has risen amid fears of contamination after the upcoming discharge into the ocean of water from Fukushima. Fukushima’s fishing communities are also concerned about customers boycotting their catch, despite strict testing protocols for food sourced from the region. Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna meanwhile called last month for “more time and an abundance of precautions”. But the Japanese authorities should take action in the next few weeks.