UN Watchdog to Japan: OK to Dump Wastewater in Sea

Critics aren't happy about release of radioactive water from Fukushima nuclear power plant
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2023 10:40 AM CDT
Japan Gets the OK to Dump Radioactive Water in Pacific
Students in Seoul, South Korea, hold signs on Wednesday during a rally to oppose the Japanese government's plan to release treated radioactive water into the sea from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A little radioactive water in the Pacific? Not that big a deal, at least according to the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, which gave the OK Tuesday for Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to dump more than a million tons of treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. NPR notes that the green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which arrived in the form of a 140-page report, comes after a two-year review in which the IAEA found the plan is "consistent with relevant international safety standards" and that "the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea ... would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment."

Japan says the water has been treated to take out all radioactive elements except for tritium (an isotope hard to separate from water) and will be further diluted to lower those tritium levels before it's released, per Reuters. "This is a very special night," Rafael Grossi, head of the IAEA, told Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida before handing over the report in Tokyo. Grossi added that the UN would oversee the process at the release site.

The plan has been met with plenty of controversy and pushback since 2021, when it was announced by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO. Detractors say it's not clear if the water, which had been used to cool fuel rods at the Fukushima plant after the 2011 nuclear disaster, is actually relatively harmless. "There are major gaps in the critical information that's necessary for us to make the final determination," Robert Richmond, a University of Hawaii biologist who was involved in studying the plan, tells NPR. He notes that if there are harmful particles in the water, they can end up sticking to sediment and tiny creatures in the Pacific, which in turn might cause mutations.

story continues below

Neighboring nations including China, South Korea, and the Philippines, as well as Pacific Islanders, also aren't thrilled at the prospect. Exceptions are Papua New Guinea and Micronesia, whose leaders say they trust Japan has undertaken appropriate safety assessments. It's not yet clear when the water release will take place. (More Japan stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.