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NFLA alarmed by the planned dumping of over 1 million tonnes of radioactively contaminated water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean – the Japanese Government needs to urgently reconsider this strategy via Nuclear Free Local Authorities (Councils Working for a Renewable, Safe, and Peaceful Future)

19th October 2020

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The NFLA has asked independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones for his analysis on this proposed decision, given his extensive analysis on the marine issues around the Fukushima disaster. (2) It also draws on the expert analysis of Dr Ian Fairlie who has publicly commented on these issues on a number of occasions. (3)

Tim Deere-Jones argues that, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 there has been no coherent or sustained analysis of the impact of the post-event, ongoing, but unquantified discharges of tritium into the marine environment. Tritium is one of the main contaminants in the water that has been used to cool down the stricken reactors. While much of it has been stored in tanks, some of it will have already got into watercourses. (4)

As a result of the lack of such analysis, both the Japanese Government and nuclear industry has no significant empirical data to support any claim that the tritium released to date has NOT given rise to doses to the local coastal populations. In such a context, the proposal to dispose of the additional very high volumes of stored tritiated water, with its very high calculated aggregated radioactivity, is strongly contra-indicated.

Tim Deere-Jones has concluded that the Fukushima event (downstream) coastal populations are those most likely to emerge as the marine/coastal Critical Population Group due to their exposure to dietary doses of tritium (mostly as OBT) from both sea foods and terrestrial produce. The Fukushima event Coastal Critical Population Group is also strongly indicated as the potential receiver of inhalation doses of airborne tritium (due to sea to land transfer processes).

In the context of the emerging empirical evidence, and the significant data gaps described above and the release of over 1 million tonnes of highly tritiated water he concludes that the proposals lack both sufficient scientific rigour and justification and are of great concern because they put large numbers of sea food consumers and “downstream” Japanese coastal communities at major risk from the long term receipt of high dietary and inhalation doses of tritium.

NFLA also refers readers to the excellent summary of the concerns around sea-dumping that has been made by independent consultant on radiation in the environment, Dr Ian Fairlie, which can be found on his website. A key part of Dr Fairlie’s analysis also includes note of emerging reports that the tank waters remain contaminated with other nuclides such as caesium-137 and especially strontium-90. This is due to the poor performance of Hitachi’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) at the site. Their concentrations are much lower than the tritium concentrations but they are still unacceptably high. NFLA shares Dr Fairlie’s conclusion that the ALPS system has to be drastically improved. After that, some observers have argued that, ideally, the tritium should be separated out of the tank waters, though this may be extremely difficult to do.

As Dr Fairlie concludes:

“There are no easy answers here. Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Government will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.”

Given these expert opinions, the NFLA is highly alarmed of the risks in general of dumping such large amounts of contaminated water into the sea when there is no clear idea of what impacts it may have to the marine environment and the public. NFLA also remain concerned that not enough research has been undertaken on the effects of tritium to justify such dumping into the ocean. Local fishing communities and the wider public are right to be concerned over the impact of such an act. As Dr Fairlie notes, the water should continue to be collected on the site and further scientific research should be undertaken.

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Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.

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