Virtually every news story about the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant acknowledges the tremendous ongoing problem of contaminated water that is accumulating in approximately 850 large tanks on-site. There are about 850,000 tons of water in the tanks at present, from which all radionuclides of concern except tritium — radioactive hydrogen — have been effectively removed. More water accumulates each day, in quantities roughly equal to the amount of groundwater that seeps into the damaged reactor buildings. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020. Something needs to be done well before then, and the decision should address the concerns of all stakeholders, public and private.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. Unless they think seriously about how to prevent this from becoming yet another clumsy exercise in DAD — “decide, announce, defend” — these meetings will be a mere fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.
In July 2017 Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made, and the public outcry was immediate, particularly from Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted. The company quickly backpedaled.
Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that an ocean release would require is expected to require almost a year after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. That no decision has been officially announced to date can be ascribed to the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash, and, I believe, the reluctance of any responsible government officials to be associated with such an unpopular decision.
Although Tepco and METI indicate that they are prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s conditions regarding the release, the cooperatives are adamant. “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. We think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk,” he continued, “and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.”