By John LaForge
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet on April 13 “gave permission” to Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to release over 1.25 million metric tons (1.38 million US tons) of Fukushima’s radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.
Harsh rejection of the decision was immediate and widespread, coming from Russia, China, North and South Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and several Pacific Island nations, as well as the fishing industry, marine scientists, and environmentalists. “It will be strongly resisted over the coming months,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.
The Biden Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency both announced support for the decision, but criticism came from around the world, with South Korea and China considering lawsuits. South Korean President Moon Jae-in told officials look into petitioning the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or filing an injunction there over Japan’s decision, Reuters and Al Jazeera reported. According to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Beijing also considers Japan’s plan to be a “possible violation of international law,” the French news service AFP reported.
Part of the reason for the backlash is that 70 percent of the wastewater now stored in over 1,000 giant tanks is still contaminated with dozens of highly radioactive materials. Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) — a novel filter system that the company claimed would remove 62 isotopes from the water — has not worked. The company says it will re-filter the waste before it starts pouring it into the Pacific.
“This water is contaminated with such radionuclides as cesium-137, carbon-14, tritium (some of which will form the more dangerous ‘organically bound tritium’), strontium-90, cobalt-60, iodine-129, plutonium-239, and more than 50 other hazardous radionuclides,” reported Rick Steiner, a marine biologist in Anchorage and former University of Alaska professor of marine conservation, in the Anchorage Daily News April 25.
apan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency said that radioactivity in the released wastewater will be “within international limits,” and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso went so far as to say the waste would be “safe to drink.” However, as Prof. Steiner reported, “As carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years, and is known to bio-accumulate in marine ecosystems and cause cellular and genetic impairment, this is a very serious concern. Fukushima carbon-14 will be added to the elevated radioactive carbon-14 load in the oceans from nuclear weapons tests last century — “bomb carbon” — now found in organisms even in the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench.”
Japan’s dumping decision means that alternatives recommended by experts were rejected in favor of the cheapest choice. Other options include expansion and long-term tank storage to allow the waste’s radioactivity to decrease, replacing the ALPS filter with a system that removes tritium and all the rest, or evaporation of the wastewater.
Abandoning the fishing community
Japan’s decision appears to be a tacit abandonment of the county’s fishing industry in the NE, as it came only 5 days after the World Trade Organization upheld South Korea’s 2013 ban on seafood from eight Japanese prefectures. At least 54 countries or regions banned food imports from Japan after Fukushima’s March 2011 triple reactor meltdowns, and 23 still had the restrictions in place in March 2021.