Fukushima Nuclear Water Discharge Plan
On August 24th, Japan initiated the controversial process of discharging the Fukushima nuclear water into the ocean.
This blog post delves into the intricate details of the Fukushima nuclear water discharge plan, exploring its motivations, supervisory measures, transparency, and associated shortcomings.
At a high level, what the Fukushima nuclear water discharge plan unfolds as follows:
- Collection and Treatment: The water that has come into contact with the nuclear reactor, containing 64 highly concentrated radioactive elements, is collected and stored in tanks.
- Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS): The collected water undergoes treatment through the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). This advanced system aims to eliminate 62 out of the 64 radioactive materials to a significant degree. However, two elements, tritium and carbon-14, prove resistant to removal. The carbon-14 in the tanks, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), is currently at concentrations of around 2% of the upper limit set by regulations, making it safe for discharge even without further dilution. The tritium, however, needs to be diluted to meet the regulations for discharge.
- Dilution and Discharge: The ALPS-treated water will be diluted with seawater to ensure that the tritium concentration aligns with regulations before releasing to the ocean. This process will continue many decades until all the nuclear water is released.
Several motivations likely underpin Japan’s decision to proceed with the Fukushima nuclear water discharge:
- Mitigating Long-Term Risks: Alternative solutions, such as “large tank storage” or “mortar solidification,” present their own risks, especially in earthquake-prone Japan. Long-term storage in the tank or mortar coffin might result in new nuclear crisis if the tank or mortar coffin become broken due to the future earthquakes. Also given the existing tanks are almost reaching the capacity, discharging the nuclear water might also be the most “economic” proposal comparing to others.
- Tritium and Natural Occurrence: Tritium exists naturally and is found in rain water, seawater, tap water and inside the human body. The food we eat and the water we drink daily contains tritium. The Japan government might consider that the discharged tritium water is safe as long as the its concentration is well below the World Health Organization (WHO) regulations or recommendations. Equilibrium between the diluted discharged nuclear water and naturally occurring tritium in the environment is expected to maintain safe levels.
- Minimal Impact on Sea Life: The sea creatures will not be affected by the discharged tritium because the discharged water tritium and the sea water tritium after equilibration will remain below the WHO regulations or recommendations. The sea food, therefore, will not be dangerous to human beings who consume them, either.
The Fukushima nuclear water discharge process is subject to scrutiny and transparency:
- Real-time Monitoring: TEPCO established monitoring systems within the Fukushima nuclear water discharge system. This real-time data is accessible on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) website.
- IAEA Oversight: The IAEA evaluates the Fukushima nuclear water discharge plan against its safety standards, ensuring compliance.
- IAEA Independent Verification: IAEA conduct independent source and environmental monitoring to corroborate the data published by the Government of Japan throughout the discharge period. This work will be done in collaboration with IAEA and third-party laboratories. The IAEA team consists of experts from countries all over the world, including China and Korea.
Several concerns warrant consideration, reflecting personal viewpoints:
- Monitoring Complexity: Ideally, ALPS treated water will remove all the 64 radioactive materials except tritium and carbon-14. But how do we know this is achieved in practice over the years? The monitors in Fukushima nuclear water discharge system only shows the amount of radiation but no concentrations of each component. While tritium after dilution can be considered safe for discharge, other radioactive materials, if not removed, are still dangerous for discharge, because they can be accumulated in animals. They should have more sophisticated analysis on the discharged water and the seawater, in real-time if possible.
- Transparency In Planning and Decision Making: We also need to know the total amount of the tritium and carbon-14 in the ALPS treated water for discharge and how the discharge safe flow rate is computed. There is a non-zero chance that the flow rate is too large to be safe or maybe the entire earth sea water is not sufficient for diluting the tritium from the Fukushima nuclear water to a safe level, before we fully understand the local and global impact of the discharge.
- Government Officials Controversy: The Japanese government officials dare not drink the diluted Fukushima nuclear water. If the Fukushima nuclear water only contains tritium and carbon-14, which after dilution meet the safety standards, drinking those water should not be a problem for health.
- Communications and Negotiations: Japan did not have sufficient communications and negotiations with key countries, including China and Korea.
While the other countries might not be authorized to monitor the Fukushima nuclear water discharge onsite, they should strengthen the analysis of the environment contaminations and (sea) food safety over the next few decades. Any signs of radiation-related harm should prompt a pause in the discharge process, triggering comprehensive investigations.
Scientifically, the Fukushima nuclear water discharge appears to be feasible, provided that it strictly follows the safety standards and protocols and the data and information are fully transparent. Despite this, currently I still see that there are some shortcomings in the implementation.
Personally, I don’t want the Fukushima nuclear water to be discharged to the ocean and I wish Fukushima power plant never had the disaster ten years ago. But since the problem is already there, it has to be fixed unfortunately.
- Data from Fukushima Daiichi ALPS Treated Water Discharge
- Fukushima Daiichi ALPS Treated Water Discharge - FAQs
- Is Fukushima Wastewater Release Safe? What the Science Says
- ALPS-Treated (But Still Contaminated) Water at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant: 14 Points to Know
- Japan Will Start Releasing Treated Radioactive Water This Week. Here’s What We Know
- Results of Radioactive Analysis around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
- Inside Fukushima Daiichi
Fukushima Nuclear Water Discharge Plan