Japan’s Radioactive Water Disposal Plan
Japan has announced to release more than one million tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant at sea on the 13th of April.
In 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of north-eastern Japan triggered a tsunami that struck Japan's main island of Honshu, destroying towns and killing more than 18,000 people.
Units 1-3 of the six Fukushima reactors were operating when the earthquake struck. After the earthquake, a tsunami of about 14-15 meters hit the nuclear power plant, causing innumerable equipment damage and bringing the nuclear power plant into Station Blackout. Units 1-3 had nuclear meltdowns, releasing large amounts of hydrogen from the core, leading to hydrogen explosions at Units 1, 3 and 4. After remedial measures were taken, water was sprayed on the reactor fuel in the plant area to cool the reactor in a stationary state and prevent the fuel from overheating and causing further serious consequences.
According to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency released in April 2020, as of December 2019, only 28% of the total volume of the ALPS treated water stored in tanks meets the regulatory standards for discharge into the environment. However, around the summer of 2022, the volume of water will reach the planned tank capacity of approximately 1.37 million tons. Therefore, a lot of water needed to be treated further, so Japan's government had to decide on the disposition path of stored water.
Since 2013, the Japanese government has evaluated five wastewater disposal options: geosphere injection, hydrogen release, underground burial, discharging into the sea, and vapour release. Among them, from the report made by the Subcommittee on the handling of the ALPS treated, the options of geosphere injection, hydrogen release, and underground burial would bring about more problems to be further considered. Thus, discharging into the sea and vapour release both seem to be more reasonable solutions. Besides, as there is no precedent of vapour release in Japan and the dried residue caused by the solution affected directly to Japan’s atmosphere will remain as radioactive waste, the most economical and reliable method of treating the water is to release them into the sea.
The move has raised concerns both inside and outside Japan after Yoshiaki Harada announced that Japan will release nuclear contaminated water into the sea.
The strongest response came from residents of Fukushima prefecture, who expressed concerns for their safety. Japanese fishermen also protest that people’s distrust of Fukushima seafood has not gone away since 2011, and the release of treated water will further cause their economic hardship.
In fact, from the date of discharge, radioactive material within 57 days will spread to most of the Pacific Ocean, nuclear contamination will affect the United States and Canada in three years.
Neighbouring countries have also expressed strong concerns over Japan's announcement. South Korea is trying to coordinate with various international organizations to block Japan's decision to release Fukushima water into the ocean and to refuse to sell or buy Japanese seafood.
China has “seriously concerned” about Japan’s disposal of Fukushima water. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, “this (Japan’s unilateral decision) is highly irresponsible and will severely affect human health and immediate interests of people in neighbouring countries”. China also called on the Japanese side to reach a consensus with other countries and international organisations and re-evaluate the decision.
Russia wants a more detailed explanation of the radioactive discharge, and, if necessary, wants to allow monitoring of radiation. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry asked Japan to treat its sewage responsibly, and to take appropriate measures to maximize the appreciation of the adverse effects on the Marine environment without causing difficulties to the economic activities of other countries.