By Sruthi Sadhasivam
Image Courtesy: Reuters
Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Waste Water Release
Japan called for the discharge of the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS)-treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the sea due to the grave environmental and technical challenge faced in managing the radioactive water from the crippled nuclear plant. As a result of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, several reactors melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Although the reactors are defunct, they need to be cooled down causing continuous build up of contaminated water, posing a major challenge for Japan. It is because of these reasons, Japan curated a decades long wastewater release plan.
Japan’s endeavour in this regard has not gone down well with all international actors. Japan’s Fukushima nuclear water release has been strongly opposed by China, South Korea and some Pacific Island nations. Some Local fishermen have also been condemning the water discharge as they fear that releasing contaminated water would hamper their livelihoods.
Role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in monitoring Fukushima plant’s water release
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA Task) Force comprising “top specialists from within the agency advised by internationally recognised nuclear safety experts from eleven countries” prepared a report (a work of 2 years) reviewing Japan’s plans against IAEA Safety Standards (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 2023).
The IAEA’s review addressed all key safety elements of the water discharge plan in three major components which includes the “assessment of protection and safety, regulatory activities and processes, independent sampling, data corroboration, and analysis” (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 2023).
The safety review of IAEA will continue during the entire discharge phase. The “agency will also have a continuous on-site presence and provide live online monitoring on its website from the discharge facility.”
The director of IAEA, Grossi claimed that “This will ensure the relevant international safety standards continue to be applied throughout the decades-long process laid out by the Government of Japan and TEPCO."
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, feeding fish in a tank filled with treated wastewater at the Fukushima plant in July. Image Courtesy: The Associated Press/REUTER
Brief Outline of the Treated Water Discharge Process
Is the fear around releasing Fukushima wastewater rational & justified?
Japan had followed all protocols in discharging its radioactive water from the nuclear plant. In fact, immediately after Japan decided to discharge the water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station (FDNPS) into the sea in April 2021, Japan requested the IAEA to conduct a detailed review of the safety related aspects of the plan (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 2023).
An IAEA Task Force, set up to review the plans and actions related to ALPS-treated water discharge. “Consisted of staff members from across the departments and laboratories of the IAEA, and 11 internationally recognized experts with diverse backgrounds from Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam” (International Atomic Energy Agency, n.d.). This diversity in membership enhances the credibility of the role played by IAEA in examining the safety precautions adopted by Japan.
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission claims that for a human to face any health issues, the person would require “to ingest billions of units of becquerels (a measure for radioactivity).” However, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), a Japanese electricity utility, has released water, only with a concentration of less than 1,500 becquerels per liter indicating that the water release might not cause any health damage to people (Stapczynski, 2023).
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety review observed that Japan’s plans to release treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea are consistent with IAEA Safety Standards.
The Director General of IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi presented a report to Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida which stated that the discharges of the treated water would only have a “negligible radiological impact to people and the environment” (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 2023).
The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel has proposed to eat seafood from Fukushima in his visit to the nuclear plant on 7th September, 2023. This is intended to support Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the damaged nuclear plant (The Japan Times, 2023). The US has also previously released their wastewater into the sea and deemed Japan’s water release plan as safe. The European Union and Australia also supported Japan in its nuclear wastewater release endeavour.
In conclusion, it can be noted that the release of the wastewater might have an aversive impact on the people and environment but will not cause any irreversible damage to the marine biodiversity or the people. China’s fears in this regard are clearly invalid.
International Atomic Energy Agency. (n.d.). Fukushima Daiichi Treated Water Release – Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) | IAEA. International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.iaea.org/topics/response/fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-accident/fukushima-daiichi-alps-treated-water-discharge
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). (2023, July 4). IAEA Finds Japan's Plans to Release Treated Water into the Sea at Fukushima Consistent with International Safety Standards | IAEA. International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/iaea-finds-japans-plans-to-release-treated-water-into-the-sea-at-fukushima-consistent-with-international-safety-standards
The Japan Times. (2023, August 24). U.S. envoy to eat Fukushima fish in show of solidarity and safety. The Japan Times. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/08/24/japan/politics/us-envoy-fukushima-water/
Liu, J. (2023, August 31). China's Disinformation Fuels Anger Over Fukushima Water Release. The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/31/world/asia/china-fukushima-water-protest.html
Stapczynski, S. (2023, August 24). Analysis | Why Japan Is Releasing Fukushima Water Into the Sea. Washington Post. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/energy/2023/08/24/is-it-safe-japan-set-to-release-treated-fukushima-nuclear-water-into-ocean/d93f51e2-4267-11ee-9677-53cc50eb3f77story.html