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Catholic bishops of Japan, Korea criticize Fukushima radioactivity clean-up plans via Catholic News Agency

CNA Staff, Feb 10, 2021 / 12:25 am MT (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Japan and Korea have criticized the Japanese government’s plans to release into the sea millions of gallons of radioactive water from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.

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The Korean Catholic Bishops’ Council Justice and Peace Committee, the Korean Catholic Bishops’ Council Ecological Environment Committee, the Japan Catholic Justice and Peace Council, and all oppose the proposal to release the tritiated water after it goes through a purification process.

“We have a responsibility to hand over to future generations a global environment where we can truly live safely and with peace of mind,” said the bishops, citing Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on a Christian ecology, Laudato Si.

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The Health Physics Society, a professional organization affiliated with the American Institute of Physics, says tritium exposure may lead to a slight increase in cancer risk, but adds that this effect in humans has only been observed with high levels of ionizing radiation.

However, the Catholic bishops argued that secondary treatment of the water is still in the testing stage. They said that health experts disagree about the health effects of tritium, citing claims that it is linked to stillbirth, Down syndrome, and childhood death due to leukemia.

They advocated that treated water be stored in tanks or solidified in mortar. Ocean release should not be the only method, they said.

The bishops called it “worrisome” that the government report did not mention the effects of treated water on non-human marine life and the marine environment. The release of radioactive material into the ocean is “irreversible,” they said, objecting that government officials had provided false information in the past regarding nuclear power plant building and maintenance.

The bishops drew on sources including the Japan affiliate of Greenpeace, and the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a staunch critic of nuclear power.

Environmentalist critics of the plan say storage tanks can be built outside the plant perimeter. They have said the government is seeking the cheapest and fastest solution to the problem, and they accuse officials of downplaying the radiation levels in the water.

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist for Greenpeace, told the German news site Deutsche Welle in October 2020 that other radioactive elements remain in the contaminated water and a focus on tritium can be misleading.

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A 2017 study reported that iodine 129 and ruthenium 106 exceeded acceptable levels in most samples. Both can cause cancer, and ruthenium isotope is toxic when ingested. Levels of strontium 90 were over 100 times above the legally permissible limit in 65,000 tons of treated water, Tepco confirmed.

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