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Japan’s Ocean Discharge Plan to Have Unpredictable Impact

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2023-07-20 10:59:36 | Author: Wang Xiaoxia


Photo shows people protesting against Japan's nuclear wastewater discharge plan in Seoul, South Korea, July 8, 2023. (PHOTO: XINHUA)

By WANG Xiaoxia & LIANG Yilian

Next month, Japan will start to discharge more than a million ton of nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which suffered a meltdown due to an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, into the Pacific Ocean. It is unprecedented in the history of the nuclear industry and will bring long-term and unpredictable consequences, scientists and researchers said at a seminar organized by China Association for Science and Technology in Beijing on July 18.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently said Japan’s plan to discharge the “treated” contaminated water into the ocean is consistent with IAEA safety standards. This will undoubtedly embolden Japan to press ahead with the plan despite the objections of neighboring regions, although IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has said that the report is neither a recommendation nor an endorsement of the discharge policy. 

“Treated water”?

Japan’s ocean discharge plan is largely limited and incomplete, and its so-called “treated water” should be questioned.

The contaminated water produced by a nuclear accident is different from the wastewater produced by normal nuclear station operations. It contains more powerful and complex radionuclides said Liu Xinhua, chief expert at the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Center of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE). 

The plan has focused on the treatment of tritium and carbon-14, which is the common difficulty faced by the nuclear industry and makes the plan sound more acceptable. Meanwhile, it fudged the other radionuclides that Japan is able to treat, said Wang Jianlong, a professor from the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, Tsinghua University.

Unpredictable consequences

The reliability and long-term effectiveness of Japan’s purification facility, the advanced liquid processing system (ALPS), remains untested. The ALPS has never been used to treat such a huge amount of contaminated water from a nuclear accident, and nobody knows whether it will work in the next three decades, Wang pointed out.

Even though treated by the ALPS, and diluted by seawater, radionuclides may accumulate and concentrate in marine organisms. It takes 12.3 years for tritium and 5,730 years for carbon-14 to decay naturally in the ocean, said Li Yun, an engineer from the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center.

It requires more studies on the long-term accumulation and concentration of radionuclides. Their impact on marine life and human health will be tested over time, said Wang.

Once released, there's no way to put the genie back into the bottle.

Editor: 林雨晨

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