Japan to Dump Radioactive Waste in Pacific Ocean Next Year

The plan to discharge radioactive waste water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea can become a reality after approval by the Japanese authorities.

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  Photo: AP

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Picture: AP

The proposal to dump treated wastewater from the nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean made major headway on April 18 after Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) decided to accept public comments on the plan within a month. The NRA will formally approve the project in 2023 after the public comment period closes on June 18. If approved, the plant operator TEPCO hopes to be able to discharge treated radioactive water into the sea from next spring.

Eleven years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The incident began when a magnitude 9 earthquake created a tsunami that struck the east coast of Japan. The tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing power outages in three reactor cores. With no electricity to run the cooling equipment, the furnace’s three cores melted, releasing large amounts of radiation into the surrounding area. Among the many problems left over from the disaster, TEPCO had to deal with hundreds of tanks containing more than 1.25 million tons of contaminated water used to cool the reactor during the accident.

The plan to dump contaminated water into the sea is controversial both locally and internationally, raising concerns about the impact on ecosystems and human health. However, some reviews and studies point to a safe plan. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reviewed the proposal earlier this year and concluded that Japan had treated the wastewater well in April.

The contaminated water is treated to remove the vast majority of the radioactive elements, leaving only tritium, one of two radioactive isotopes of hydrogen. Although tritium is toxic, it still occurs naturally and experts say the amount of tritium in the environment will be extremely low due to mixing with seawater.

A study published earlier this year modeled how radioactive water would mix into oceans around the world and found that after about 1,200 days, the pollutants blanketed most of the North Pacific, spreading to the North American coast to the east and Australia to the south would. By day 3,600, the pollutant will have covered most of the Pacific Ocean. The researchers assume that traces of tritium could still be found in the ocean after 40 years, but the concentrations would be extremely low.

A khang (Corresponding IFL Science)