By: Sam Gruetter
In March of 2011, a 9.0 magnitude Earthquake struck Japan, causing a tsunami and resulting in the malfunction of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) power plants cooling system and reactors. The waste from the plant mixed, creating radioactive water that leaked throughout the surrounding area. In an attempt to contain the waste, TEPCO treats the water and puts it into holding tanks surrounding the plant. However, these holding tanks are running out of space, requiring the Japanese government and TEPCO to come up with an alternate solution.
The Japanese government is attempting to solve this problem by releasing the waste into the Pacific Ocean, an initiative they began pursuing in 2019 and was recently approved. TEPCO and the Japanese government treat the water using large-scale filtration and dilution to remove the nuclear particles and release it into the Pacific Ocean. While TEPCO can safely move the majority of the nuclear waste, Tritium, a component of hydrogen, cannot be removed, causing concern for Japanese residents and health officials alike. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that the concentration of Tritium is “far below the operational limit of 1,500 becquerels per litre (Bq/L)”. However, even an insignificant concentration does not alleviate the concerns of certain health officials, residents, and neighboring countries.
The countries surrounding Japan are divided on the topic, arguing whether or not it is safe and will significantly impact Japan’s seafood exports. The United States, Taiwan, and South Korea support Japan’s reasoning that the amount of nuclear matter left in the water will have an insignificant impact on the health of marine life. However, countries such as the Pacific Islands and China have voiced their concerns about the environmental impact. Other areas, including China, have banned exports from Japan because of the danger on marine life. One of the lead researchers from Safecast, an atomic researching company, comments on Japan’s current plan to begin releasing the waste “ the entire process has not been transparent enough,”
Japan initially developed the plan in 2019 and approved it two years later. After the plan was approved, TEPCO began treating the water under the supervision of the IAEA. The first round began on Aug. 24 and led to the release of 7800 tons of the waste into the ocean, prompting China to ban all Japan exports from the fish industry. TEPCO and the Japanese government are planning to release another round of this waste in late September, further harming their trade relationship with China, thus hurting the Japanese fish industry in the process.
(Sources: BBC, CNN, NPR, NY Times)