Staff measure radiation levels around the storage tanks of radiation-contaminated water at the tsunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Photo: POOL/AFP
national

At Fukushima plant, a million-ton headache: radioactive water

50 Comments
By Karyn Nishimura

On the grounds of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant sits a million-ton headache for the plant's operators and Japan's government: tank after tank of water contaminated with radioactive elements.

What to do with the enormous amount of water, which grows by around 150 tons a day, is a thorny question, with controversy surrounding a long-standing proposal to discharge it into the sea, after extensive decontamination.

The water comes from several different sources: Some is used for cooling at the plant, which suffered a meltdown after it was hit by a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake in March 2011.

Groundwater that seeps into the plant daily, along with rainwater, add to the problem.

A thousand, towering tanks have now replaced many of the cherry trees that once dotted the plant's ground. Each can hold 1,200 tons, and most of them are already full.

"We will build more on the site until the end of 2020, and we think all the tanks will be full by around the summer of 2022," said Junichi Matsumoto, an official with the unit of plant operator TEPCO in charge of dismantling the site.

TEPCO has been struggling with the problem for years, taking various measures to limit the amount of groundwater entering the site.

There is also an extensive pumping and filtration system, that each day brings up tons of newly contaminated water and filters out as many of the radioactive elements as possible.

The hangar where the decontamination system runs is designated "Zone Y" -- a danger zone requiring special protections.

All those entering must wear elaborate protection: a full body suit, three layers of socks, three layers of gloves, a double cap topped by a helmet, a vest with a pocket carrying a dosimeter, a full-face respirator mask and special shoes.

Most of the outfit has to burned after use.

"The machinery filters contain radionuclides, so you have to be very protected here, just like with the buildings where the reactors are," explained TEPCO risk communicator Katsutoshi Oyama.

TEPCO has been filtering newly contaminated water for years, but much of it needs to go through the process again because early versions of the filtration process did not fully remove some dangerous radioactive elements, including strontium 90.

The current process is more effective, removing or reducing around 60 radionuclides to levels accepted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for water being discharged.

But there is one that remains, which cannot be removed with the current technology: tritium.

Tritium is naturally present in the environment, and has also been discharged in its artificial form into the environment by the nuclear industry around the world.

There is little evidence that it causes harm to humans except in very high concentrations and the IAEA argues that properly filtered Fukushima water could be diluted with seawater and then safely released into the ocean without causing environmental problems.

But those assurances are of little comfort to many in the region, particularly Fukushima's fishing industry which, like local farmers, has suffered from the outside perception that food from the region is unsafe.

Kyoichi Kamiyama, director of the radioactivity research department at the regional government's Fisheries and Marine Science Research Center, points out that local fishermen are still struggling eight years after the disaster.

"Discharging into the ocean? I'm absolutely against it," he told AFP.

At the national government level, the view is more sanguine.

"We want to study how to minimize the damage (from a potential discharge) to the region's reputation and Fukushima products," an Industry Ministry official said.

The government is sensitive to fears that people inside Japan and further afield will view any discharge as sending radioactive waste into the sea.

No decisions are likely in the near-term, with the country sensitive to the international spotlight that will fall on Japan as it hosts the Olympic Games next year.

Environmentalists are also resolutely opposed to any discharge into the sea, and Greenpeace argues that TEPCO cannot be trusted to properly decontaminate the water.

The solution, said Greenpeace senior nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie, "ultimately can only be long-term storage and processing."

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


50 Comments
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Minister of the Environment Shinjiro Koizumi should work diligently on a solution that is "cool" and "sexy".

8 ( +12 / -4 )

No decisions are likely in the near-term, with the country sensitive to the international spotlight that will fall on Japan as it hosts the Olympic Games next year.

At least there is a guarantee up until Olympic, no guarantee after that.

The government is sensitive to fears that people inside Japan and further afield will view any discharge as sending radioactive waste into the sea.

Fears? How about the effect? With this fact they still push people to buy and eat Fukushima food both inside and outside Japan.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

What a tragedy! You can't keep installing tank after tank there to contain endlessly flowing radioactive water. It’s like a goose trying to stop the flow of a river by drinking it.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Trust me, if they release that water into the Pacific Ocean, it won't just be Fukushima fishermen and farmers who will be affected, but everyone up and done the coast. The EU and other countries will slap a ban on the products so fast TEPCO's heads will spin. And then the Abe government will force the locals to buy and eat whatever is caught all to "support Tohoku".

7 ( +10 / -3 )

To become a minister at such a young age, this is the price paid by the young minister Koizumi, a massive headache.

Personally, I think given Japan's resumption of whaling and other internationally less acceptable practices, it's not out of the question that Japan will decontaminate the water and discharge it to sea.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

But there is one that remains, which cannot be removed with the current technology: tritium.

This is an untruth! Tritium can be removed from water. However, it is quite expensive and because these wombats have been sitting on their hands for 8 years the cost of removing the tritium from a million tons of water is extensive, but it's cheaper for these environmental terrorists to tell lies and dump it all into the ocean.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/06/28/national/science-health/radioactive-tritium-removed-water-kindai-university-team-raising-hopes-fukushima-cleanup/#.XZpqw-czZTY

10 ( +12 / -2 )

@Disillusioned

Yes agree with you, given the options available to decontaminate water. But, I think money is the roadblock and IMHO, it will take global threats to stop buying Japanese products to get Japan to commit to properly decontaminate the water.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

*Tritium can be removed from water. However, it is quite expensive and because these wombats have been sitting on their hands for 8 years the cost of removing the tritium from a million tons of water is extensive*

They already avoiding to build measures to deal with potential Tsunami just to cut the cost in the past. Are they willing to spend more money for this water cleaning technology? Really?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/oct/15/fukushima-disaster-avoided-nuclear-plant

4 ( +5 / -1 )

And Abe said he is going to open up more reactors!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

And yet, countries are cool with purchasing food from this region? Well, to each his own.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

And yet, countries are cool with purchasing food from this region? Well, to each his own.

Not only that Japan will bring countries that refuse food from Fukushima to WTO.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-southkorea-wto/south-korea-wto-appeal-succeeds-in-japanese-fukushima-food-dispute-idUSKCN1RN24X

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This article is full of untruths and attempts to paint a picture of rosiness and pity. The truth is, TEPCO and the J-Gov have had ample time and gave ample funds to properly treat this water and to find an alternative to dumping it into the sea. They admit the water contains stronium, but expect us to believe they will remove it. They then go on to state that dumping a million tons of radioactive water into the sea will impact on the environment. I don’t know who are the bigger fools. Those who believe it or those who expect us to believe it.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Edit: Will not have any impact on the environment.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

voiceofokinawaToday 07:18 am JST

What a tragedy! You can't keep installing tank after tank there to contain endlessly flowing radioactive water. It’s like a goose trying to stop the flow of a river by drinking it.

Why ? What's the issue, the whole area is closed no ? They can keep adding tanks around. Keep your water, deal with your mistakes.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Meanwhile, the judiciary in Japan rule that ancient nuclear power stations can continue, in the face of mass opposition from its citizens!

Never mind, the Olympics are coming....

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Any water downed solution isn't the answer.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The water in those tanks in the photograph above cannot be too bad, judging by the fact that they are not wearing full protection suits.

I say filter once more, dilute, and disperse to the ocean. The local fishermen are aware of the currents and do not have to fish locally, if they can be trusted to be responsible...

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Million-ton headache tank of water contaminated with radioactive elements which grows by around 150 tons a day to include Tritium, is "cool and sexy" to put it by new appointed Minister of Environment. No reason to be worried, right? Traditional methods of Tritium removal involved “heavy water,” where Tritium is found in larger quantities, for the purpose of recycling the water back into nuclear reactors not into the Pacific Ocean. However, when Tritium is present in smaller concentrations, there is technological methods unfortunately it is prohibitively expensive. Perhaps I should appointed Minister of Environment, for one pollution is not cool nor sexy. Ask anyone who eats fish, which is pretty much a high number of folks around the world. The fish just don't stay in one area either.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Take it out to sea in tankers and dump it into the ocean.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Zichi, I agree. There really isn't much other choice. Soon, those tanks will deteriorate and the water dispelled in th nearby environment. Best to dump it mid-Pacific.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Take it out to sea in tankers and dump it into the ocean.

Yeah, either barrel it up and dump it in one of the ocean trenches or pay an African country to take it out into the middle of the desert, dig a big hole, and leave it there.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

When this nuclear disaster occurred, everyone thought the government would rethink its nuclear-power policy right then and there and look for alternative energy. But it didn’t. Not only that, Abe played the role of a salesman when visiting foreign countries, trying hard to sell Hitachi-made nuclear-power plants.

Strangely enough, in hindsight, right after the accident, U.S. government officials and so-called japanophiles came to Japan in hordes, who urged the Japanese government not to abandon its long-cherished nuclear-power policy. Was the U.S. military-industrial complex behind the scenes, deeply involved in Japan’s nuclear-power policy from the very beginning? And so they encouraged the powers that be to stand firm on this?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

A lot of posters here seem unfamiliar with the concept of dilution. While a million tons sounds impressive, when dumped into the ocean it is literally nothing.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

One can't help but note that if they hadn't insisted, and still insist, on nuclear power, there wouldn't be this headache. It's going to happen again, and next time it may well be instantly far worse than Chernobyl instead of slowly getting to that level.

WilliB: "A lot of posters here seem unfamiliar with the concept of dilution."

No, you are unfamiliar with the concept of radioactive elements and how people would like to avoid them in their food, the ocean in general, and in their water. If they dump it, Japanese seafood products on the entire east coast should be shunned.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Who is the party delaying this news, the party must know, U could have killed alot of people in a very slow way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

WilliBToday 01:10 pm JST

A lot of posters here seem unfamiliar with the concept of dilution. While a million tons sounds impressive, when dumped into the ocean it is literally nothing.

I think it's more about the easy way out, the lack on consequences. It's so convenient to dump stuff into the sea.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And those tanks can't withstand another powerful earthquake.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese seafood products on the entire east coast should be shunned.

The amounts of detectable radiation in the fish caught off the Fukushima coast is less than one tenth of the limits set internationally which Japan reduced by one tenth following the disaster. These foods are the only ones being tested unlike foods from other prefectures and imported fish from other countries.

https://www.whoi.edu/know-your-ocean/ocean-topics/pollution/fukushima-radiation/

https://www.pref.fukushima.lg.jp/site/portal-english/list381.html

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The water in those tanks in the photograph above cannot be too bad, judging by the fact that they are not wearing full protection suits.

I say filter once more, dilute, and disperse to the ocean. The local fishermen are aware of the currents and do not have to fish locally, if they can be trusted to be responsible...

It is obviously not highly radioactive, and metal adds a barriers. However, would you drink it? Of course not.

The question is whether the rest of the world should have to deal with Japan's atomic pollution. The fact that it is expensive to maintain these tanks is not the ROW's problem.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I remember few years ago my boss told me. "I don't trust Tokyo water"

The same I don't trust TEPCO or government.

Nowadays I don't eat any raw or cooked fish. Even if they tell me from Hokkaido I don't touch. I also don't eat any meat/veg/rice from Fukushima or Tohoku.

And I always give same advice to gaikokujins.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The water in the tanks settles into two layers. the bottom heavy layer with the contamination and the lighter top layer which is technical pure water and safe to drink.

Everyone is exposed to small amounts of tritium every day, because it occurs naturally in the environment and the foods we eat. Workers in federal weapons facilities; medical, biomedical, or university research facilities; or nuclear fuel cycle facilities may receive increased exposures to tritium.

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/tritium-radiation-fs.html

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Tritium can be removed from water. However, it is quite expensive

Perhaps the whalers can be persuaded to pony up some of that $50 million a year we give them? Japanese consumers may be comfortable with mercury in their whales, Tritium might be harder for them to stomach.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Tritium can be removed from water. However, it is quite expensive

Only when the volumes are small. Not one million tons.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan has no right to dump this water into oceans shared by other countries. If they do dump it, it should be well inside the 12 mile international limits. It's also past time that the fishing industry from that entire area was written off, as it will have to be if they dump this water.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Dilution is the solution.... The Pacific is just the place....slowly release the essentially harmless water back to the sea. And stop panicking! You have much more important things to worry about!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

wow this is a serious problem without any solution. Seems some uniquely made in Japan solution would of surfaced by now, with all they hype about that. I guess they could source huge tankers and ship it somewhere else, like some country backwater uninhabitable territory and let it evaporate there. Who knows.

Unbelievable.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@The Longtermer,

You'd firstly need four very big oil tankers that don't mind being contaminated, then the logistics to transport a billion litres of bad news into the middle of nowhere. Hopefully you could do that without incident.

I'm not sure Japan wants the additional stigma of polluting vast areas of land as well as sea.

And stop panicking! You have much more important things to worry about!

I'm perfectly calm, dude. Calmer than you are.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I think if I remember correctly, one million tons of water is equal to 400 Olympic swimming pools.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I tried to copy a fact sheet re nuclear power.

The radiation from Fukushima to the Atmospheric is 10 - 30 PBq petaBequarel and direct 3 - 30 pBq.

In the ocean there are Uranium with a radiation of 37 000 PBq Thirtyseven tausend PBq and Potassium--40 with a radiation of 15 000 000 PBq that is 15 million PBq. That is the wast water have very low impact mixed by Uranium and Potassium.

Look at the situation in a sensible wiew. Everything alive do exhaust radiativety and a group of four persons do represent a radiation equal to the exhaust of Three Mile Island. The City center of Tokyo do have high level of radiation as effect of crowded streets.

Prior they scared common people with explosion in the car engine, the police etc and were also going with a red flag in front of the cars. Today they have fake news about the radiactive exhaust from nuclear.

Instead of attacking the civil nuclear power do turn you towards the military use of nuclear weapon. One percent reduction of military weapon have more effect than to close down all nuclear power plants.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The water in the tanks settles into two layers. the bottom heavy layer with the contamination and the lighter top layer which is technical pure water and safe to drink.

No, it doesn't. Just the heating by the sun each day followed by cooling at night is enough to keep the water mixed. Also tritium, being water itself, will be well mixed throughout the tank even if left to sit for centuries.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Mix the water with concrete to produce slabs for sea walls.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Antidote, neutralizer, must be something out there to make the water less deadly.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The water needs a better marketing and branding campaign. They could bottle it and sell it as a supplement. A supplement to your daily dose of radioactivity, following the proven marketing technique (a myth, but who cares?) - if a little is good for you, a lot of it must be better for you.

You need a little tritium in your diet to help digestion, or maybe the idea that this tritium water is a perfect cleansing water to remove makeup and make your skin younger and fresh!

Yeah, that'll sell.

Maybe the Kardashians can promote it and it will become a huge financial success instead of a money pit?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Mix the water with concrete to produce slabs for sea walls.

good idea,

let me ask you this: if the water evaporates, are the elements left behind, or if, for ex. reverse osmosis is applied can the elements be removed?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

let me ask you this: if the water evaporates, are the elements left behind

Tritium, being water just with a different isotope of hydrogen, would evaporate along with the rest of the water. Other dissolved impurities would (mostly) remain behind.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why don´t you accept correct news. What I mean is that as much correct news you do know the better decision you will take. As more objectiv views of a matter the better the result will be even if it not is in coordination with your initial thought.

Of cource nuclear power have it´s problem but don´t base the decision good or not good on fake news.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

For god's sake, just switch to renewables. Might cost a lot at the beginning but'll pay for itself very quickly. So long term, cheaper, cleaner and much safer. No brainer.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Might cost a lot at the beginning

Might lead to lots of death because they can't currently support a modern society and a massive reduction in the global economy.

So long term, cheaper, cleaner and much safer.

Not cheaper, not cleaner (except maybe hydro and geothermal but they can't supply enough) and not safer.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Dom Palmer

You haven’t backed up your opinion with any facts...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@kurisupisu

I noticed you haven't complained about nobody else backing theirs either...

But here you go.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/09/04/why-renewables-cant-save-the-climate/#6c6c1c153526

http://www.tedxdanubia.com/videos/why-renewables-can-t-save-the-planet-michael-shellenberger-tedxdanubia

https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/02/02/why-renewable-energy-wont-save-us-from-climate-cha.aspx

https://futurism.com/renewable-energy-is-great-but-it-cant-save-our-biosphere

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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