Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happened back in Friday, 11 March 2011. It happened when one of the biggest nuclear power plant reactors in Japan was hit by a tsunami, following Tohoku earthquake disaster before.
This disaster was one of the worst nuclear disaster ever happened since Chernobyl that happened in 1986. By International Nuclear Event Scale, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was categorized as level 7 event, and was the first to receive such classification since Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
It has been almost a decade since the initial incident happened, but things are still not going normal in Fukushima. However, normalization is still priority in the area, and a lot of efforts were made. One of the efforts is to remove radioactive materials in damaged reactors.
The method used is a treatment using advanced liquid processing system (ALPS). The problem with this method is that it will produce radioactive waste water. What should the government do with this radioactive waste?
What’s The Plan?
The reason why we want to talk about this topic is because of the plan issued by Japanese government. The plant was to send the treated radioactive waste water into the ocean without furtherly process it to make sure the radioactivity is totally gone.
The most vocal groups among residents who oppose the plan are the fishing groups and environmentalists. The reason is clear, contaminated radioactive waste water will pollute the ocean in the area of disposal with radioactivity, thus any organism living in it will also be contaminated.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama stated that actually the government doesn’t have any plan to do with the waste. “We are not at a stage where we can announce the specific timing of a decision. We want to proceed with the matter carefully,” Hiroshi Kajiyama stated in a news conference.
The government only said that they will “make a decision as soon as possible,” without stating any clearer statements. Actually, it has been a debate for almost a decade about what to do with the waste water, and disposing it into ocean came up.
For your information, the total amount of treated radioactive water waste produced is nearly 1.2 million tons. Another 170 tons are reportedly to be added every day, and the Fukushima complex is predicted to run out of clean water by 2022 if the process continues.
Should We Worry?
Well, enough talking about the amount of radioactive waste water produced. The question we should ask next is, should we be worried about the plan to discharge the waste into the ocean? To know the answer, we should look at several things beforehand.
In a nuclear power plants, radioactivity is an inseparable part to work with. But radioactivity can come from many sources. It can come from uranium (the most famous one among other radioactive element), rhodium, tritium, and many other elements.
In the process, the cleanup project is able to remove around 62 radioactive contaminants, which means almost every single one. However, there is one single contaminant remaining even after the process, and the suspect is tritium.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that runs Fukushima itself stated that the remaining radionuclide from the waste water is tritium. Why? Francis Livens at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, also said that it is so hard to get rid of tritium because it is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
According to Buesseler, tritium is also relatively harmless to marine ecosystem, because it only emits low-energy radioactive particles. In other words, it only poses a little damage to living cells. Different radionuclide emits different level of radioactive particles, and tritium is one of the lowest emitters.
Fukushima Waste Is More Than Tritium’s Radioactivity
Yes, tritium might not pose that much danger to marine ecosystem. However, its radioactive particle emission is not the main problem for it. The thing we should worry about is its area of effect when dumped into water.
Tritium is a light element, so that if it is discarded into water, it can float very far away. From Fukushima, it might go as far as United States’ west coast in two years span according to Ken Buesseler from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
But talking only about the tritium part of the story is not fair. There are so many other radionuclides in the waste water even after the filtering process. Two of the most potentially dangerous radionuclides that may still exist in the water are strontium-90 and iodine-129.
A list of contaminants was published by TEPCO in 2018, and it showed that first filtering process may reduce the level of contaminants up to 70%. However, it was not shown a further process, which means that there is huge possibility the remaining 30% of them still exist.
That 30% not only poses threat to marine ecosystem, but also human beings, particularly radioactive isotope carbon-14. “There are major questions as to whether it will work as planned,” Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace stated.
Fukushima Locals’ Voice
As noted above, there are flaws in here in the filtering process of Fukushima waste water. First flaw is by not being able to completely eliminate tritium, while another flaw is it can only eliminate 70% of contaminants in the initial filtering process without any report for further filtering.
But with so much waste water already produced to clean the area of Fukushima, what can they do? Intense discussions with representatives of 29 organizations have been held so far by Japan government, concerning the plan to dispose the waste water.
But Kajiyama said that more talks with local is also needed, because they are the ones impacted the most. “There is a need to further deepen our discussions,” the minister said. As many as more than 4000 public opinions were received.
Among the more than 4000 opinions, 2700 of it expressing concerns toward the threat it can cause into the ocean. In addition to that, around 1400 expressing wariness about the decision-making process. So far, South Korea also showed its concern toward the plan by already banning imported fish from the area.
Japan needs a really good plan with their radioactive waste water production, and it needs to be solved immediately. However, throwing away into the ocean is not a good choice to make, as long as the purifying process doesn’t result in harmless waste water.
At least, as long as locals are still opposing the plan, we will not see any Fukushima radioactive waste water to be dumped into the ocean.