UN agency approves Fukushima waste disposal plan
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has approved Japanese plans to release wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear station into the Pacific Ocean, more than a decade after the plant was badly damaged by a tsunami.
A report issued by the UN nuclear watchdog on Tuesday said that dumping the water would have a “negligible impact on the people and the environment,” in spite of concerns expressed by China and South Korea. The Fukushima plant produces around 100 cubic meters of wastewater each day, and is running out of storage space. Tanks on the site have a capacity of 1.3 million cubic meters.
IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday following the publication of the safety report that it “makes the science of the treated water release clear for the international community.” He also claimed that the report “answers the technical questions related to safety” that have been raised by regional neighbors.
The wastewater has been treated to remove most of its radioactive elements, with the exception of isotopes of radioactive hydrogen and carbon – referred to as tritium and carbon 14 – that are difficult to separate from water. Tokyo has maintained that the levels of tritium and carbon 14 in the wastewater comply with international safety standards.
The water, which has a capacity to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, is used to cool fuel rods that melted during the 2011 disaster. The full discharge of the waste is expected to take between 30 to 40 years to complete.
Nuclear plants frequently dispose of wastewater with more concentrated levels of radioactive isotopes than Fukushima’s proposed release. Speaking on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida insisted that the report displayed “scientific evidence and with a high level of transparency.”
Beijing has called the Japanese proposal “extremely irresponsible” and on Tuesday reiterated its stance that the plan should be suspended. The Japanese fishing industry has also objected, arguing that the scheme will ruin a decade’s worth of work in convincing the populace that seafood from the region is safe to consume.
If ingested, Tritium can raise a person’s risk of developing cancer, according to a 2014 study. Kishida’s government has not yet announced a schedule for the waste release, which still requires approval from a nuclear regulator.
In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake in the Pacific Ocean triggered a tsunami which flooded three reactors at the Fukushima plant, causing a triple meltdown. It was the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.