TOKYO, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) — The head of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission in Japan monitoring the decommissioning process at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station said Wednesday that discharging contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean might be an option for the plant’s operator.
Noting that groundwater flowing into the complex and its reactor buildings is adding to TEPCO’s struggle to store the contaminated water in makeshift storage tanks, some of which have sprung leaks causing radioactive materials to be released into the sea, Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of the IAEA’s mission floated the idea of releasing radioactive water into the ocean.
“Controlled discharge is a regular practice in all the nuclear facilities in the world. And what we are trying to say here is to consider this as one of the options to contribute to a good balance of risks and to stabilize the facility for the long term,” Lentijo, told a news conference in Tokyo Wednesday.
Lentijo said that TEPCO should weigh the possible damaging effects of discharging toxic water against the total risks involved in the overall decommissioning work process.
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, told a press briefing on Tuesday that low-level contaminated water at the site will continue to provide one of the biggest obstacles for the decommissioning process, which also includes the use of remote-controlled cranes to remove melted fuel from pools at some of the damaged reactors where radiation levels are very high, in a potentially cataclysmic process.
But while TEPCO is increasing the number of storage tanks as it scrambles to contain the radioactive water within its compound, remove highly-volatile fuel assemblies and work to lower the levels of contamination in wastewater, Tanaka highlighted the fact that while highly radioactive water could be decontaminated in around seven years, the amount of water containing tritium will keep rising, topping 700,000 tons in two years.
Tritium is internationally classified as one of the least dangerous nuclear materials, but nuclear experts have repeatedly pointed out that the radionuclide is still a significant radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food or water, or absorbed through the skin.
As such, local fisherman, industries and fisheries bodies in the Fukushima area and beyond in Japan’s northeast, have collectively baulked at the idea of releasing toxic water into the sea, regardless of the levels of radioactivity.
They said in a joint statement issued Wednesday that the image of Japan’s food industry has already been battered by the nuclear disaster and overseas markets banning imports, and the current idea to release radioactive water into the Pacific would only serve to further tarnish the image and damage the market for Japanese seafood exports.