Contaminated water that would reportedly be released into the sea from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant contains a radioactive substance that has the potential to damage human DNA, a Greenpeace investigation has said.
The environmental group said the 1.23 million tonnes of water stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the plant contains “dangerous” levels of the radioactive isotope carbon-14, in addition to quantities of tritium that have already been widely reported.
The publication of the report Stemming the Tide 2020: The reality of the Fukushima radioactive water crisis comes days after Japanese media reported that the government was close to giving its approval to release the water into the Pacific Ocean, despite objections from local fishers who say the move would destroy their livelihoods.
“We cannot postpone the issue forever,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said this week. “We would like to make a decision responsibly as soon as possible.”
While most attention has been focused on tritium — which cannot be removed by the on-site filtration system used by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) — Greenpeace Japan and Greenpeace East Asia said that radioactive carbon in the stored water would also be discharged.
Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,370 years and becomes “incorporated into all living matter,” the report said.
“It concentrates in fish at a level thousands of times higher than tritium. Carbon-14 is especially important as a major contributor to collective human radiation dose and has the potential to damage human DNA,” it said.
The Japanese government and TEPCO refer to the water — which becomes tainted when it is used to cool the plant’s tsunami-damaged reactors — as “treated water” and give the impression that it contains only tritium, it added.
TEPCO’S advanced liquid processing system removes highly radioactive substances from the water, but is unable to filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that nuclear power plants routinely dilute and dump along with water into the ocean.
Greenpeace said that it had confirmed with TEPCO that the system was not designed to remove carbon-14.
“Nearly 10 years after the start of the disaster, TEPCO and the Japanese government are still covering up the scale of the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi,” said Shaun Burnie, author of the report and senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany.
“They have deliberately held back for years detailed information on the radioactive material in the contaminated water. They have failed to explain to the citizens of Fukushima, wider Japan and to neighboring countries such as South Korea and China that the contaminated water to be dumped into the Pacific ocean contains dangerous levels of carbon-14,” Burnie said.
“These, together with other radionuclides in the water will remain hazardous for thousands of years with the potential to cause genetic damage. It’s one more reason why these plans have to be abandoned,” he added.
Japan’s government is expected to announce a decision on the water’s fate next week.
Media reports said that the project would begin in 2022 at the earliest and take decades to complete.
The water at Fukushima Dai-ichi would be diluted inside the plant before it is released so that it is 40 times less concentrated, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
Pressure for a decision has been building as storage space on the nuclear plant site shrinks, with TEPCO estimating all of the available tanks would be full by the middle of 2022.
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