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Fukushima Water Release Approved

Authorities at Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are making final preparations to release billions of litres of dilute radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

Workers at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

Workers at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The water, used to keep damaged reactors from overheating, has been accumulating since 2012, with no treatment technologies able to completely remove all radioactive elements. Read our November 2020 article on Fukushima’s water issues here.

Since the melt-down in 2012, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant) has installed over 1,000 water storage tanks to hold contaminated water and buy time for authorities to approve a longer-term water management plan.

The plan, which was approved in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), involves the following steps:

  1. A water treatment system called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) treats the water to the best quality possible. ALPS uses a series of chemical reactions, filters and membranes to remove 62 types of radioactive materials, with only tritium remaining in the water.

  2. Large volumes of seawater are then pumped onto the Fukushima site and combined with ALPS treated water for first phase dilution.

  3. The combined water is then discharged back into the ocean for final dilution.

Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) Process Flow Diagram

Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) Process Flow Diagram. Source: Ministry of the Environment website

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the watchdog's two-year review found that the plan complies with international standards and the treated water will have "a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment". Read the full article here.

Other countries in the region have endorsed the plan, with the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) stating they agree with the IAEA’s assessment and discharge plan.

Despite reassurances by regulators, Japan’s fishing industry fears it will destroy the reputation of the country's seafood, and groups in South Korea and China have also raised concerns. Hong Kong announced Wednesday it would ban seafood imports from 10 Japanese prefectures once the release begins, and Beijing has threatened possible new restrictions on the Chinese mainland.

To alleviate concerns, Japan has launched a wave of advertising campaigns to help convince a sceptical public that releasing contaminated water into the ocean is safe.

Regardless, it seems the flood gates will soon open with many stakeholders monitoring the situation closely.

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