Treated Radioactive Wastewater Hits the Pacific Ocean

Start of Fukushima's 30-year release began Thursday
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2023 10:24 AM CDT
Updated Aug 24, 2023 12:00 AM CDT
Contentious Release of Treated Fukushima Water to Begin
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is seen from Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. Japan will start releasing treated and diluted radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean as early as Thursday.   (Kyodo News via AP)
UPDATE Aug 24, 2023 12:00 AM CDT

The release of treated radioactive wastewater from Japan's tsunami-ruined Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant began Thursday as planned. Despite the controversial nature of the release, plant officials said everything was going smoothly so far, the AP reports. The International Atomic Energy Agency is on hand to make sure IAEA safety standards are being adhered to, and the UN says the agency will continue to have an on-site presence "during the discharge phase."

Aug 22, 2023 10:24 AM CDT

Should weather and ocean conditions cooperate, Japan will start releasing what will ultimately be more than a million tons of treated radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. The country got the green light for the release from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in July from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, which found that "the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea ... would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment." Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gave the final go-ahead Tuesday, reports the AP, which notes the country has maintained the release is a key step in the extremely long process of decommissioning the plant.

But as the New York Times reports, critics of the plan abound in the region, from the Chinese government to many South Koreans to Japanese fishing associations, which fear they will be unable to export fish from the area once the water is released. Indeed, the AP reports that following Kishida's announcement, Hong Kong and Macau on Tuesday banned products from Fukushima and nine additional prefectures, while China has upped radiation testing on Japanese fish, which will lengthen the import process. The water, which was pumped through three damaged reactor cores to keep them from melting following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that battered Fukushima, has been kept in tanks since, but those tanks are nearing capacity, reports the BBC.

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It's expected to be released over a 30-year period. Japan says the water has been treated to take out all radioactive elements except for tritium (an isotope hard and prohibitively expensive to separate from water) and will be further diluted to lower those tritium levels before it's released. The Times notes that despite their criticism of the plan, nuclear plants in China and South Korea (as well as the US), also release treated wastewater containing tritium into oceans, with the BBC saying that in some places, the tritium levels are greater than those of the treated Fukushima water. (More Fukushima Daiichi stories.)

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