On Tuesday last week, Japan announced that it would treat radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to reduce the concentration of the radioactive hydrogen isotope tritium to a 40th of the Japanese standard before releasing the water into the ocean in the next few years.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and the US government support the decision, while South Korea has expressed strong objections. In Taiwan, local media outlets reported that the Atomic Energy Council “expressed regret” over the decision.
However, nobody — Taiwan included — is in a position to protest.
The Japanese position is that tritium cannot be removed, and if the water is to be released into the ocean, it must be diluted to below the accepted standard, consistent with the practice followed by nuclear power plants worldwide.
South Korea’s Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant, for example, has since October 1999 released more than 6 gigabecquerels of tritium into the Sea of Japan, more than six times the amount of radiation in the treated water stored at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. In 2016, Wolseong released about 23 megabecquerels of tritium. The Ma-anshan Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County releases about 40 megabecquerels every year.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry committee that reviewed the wastewater treatment method said that the entire amount is to be released into the ocean or the atmosphere, and that the levels of radiation exposure would be low and the impact of this radiation extremely small.
The amount of tritium retained in the treated water would be 860 megabecquerels, and would be released into the ocean within the space of a year, at a dose of 0.62 microsieverts. The average person is exposed to about 210 microsieverts of ionizing radiation from nature every year. That means the radiation concentration in the water treated at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is less than one-1,000th of that found in nature.
Measurements from other nuclear plants around the world serve as a reference. In Canada, the Bruce A and B Nuclear Generating Stations release about 892 megabecquerels per year, while the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station releases about 241 megabecquerels, compared with the 2.2 megabecquerels released by Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2010. China’s Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant releases about 42 megabecquerels per year.
The treated water tanks at Fukushima Dai-ichi are expected to be full by summer next year, and so the government needs a way to release the water. Since the solidified fuel in the reactors still needs to be cooled, water continues to be contaminated, and Japan must find a solution.
Within Japan, objection to the policy comes from the Japanese Communist Party, with members representing “citizens’ groups” that occasionally organize protests reported in the anti-nuclear newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, without mentioning the party’s involvement.
On Oct. 19 last year, the Fukushima edition of the paper ran a report on a protest of the release of the wastewater into the ocean. The demonstration was attended by 10 people, but as it was reported in the newspaper, it had quite an impact.
Politicians trying to politicize scientific issues is nothing new. As a scientific institution, the Atomic Energy Council disregarded that its own power plants release water containing traces of tritium into the ocean, and expressed “regret” at Tokyo’s decision. It was hardly in the national interest to do so.
Paul Liu is a retired Taiwan Power Co engineer.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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