This is sure to make a few people mad. On the third anniversary of the worst radioactive disaster since Chernobyl, officials overseeing the Fukushima power plant now say they want to dump hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
The plant has kept the radioactive water every day since the March 2011 meltdown, caused by an incredible earthquake-tsunami combination that killed people and overloaded three of the Fukushima plant’s six reactors. Now, in some of the most pointed pleas to dump the water into the ocean to date, Klein says “a controlled release is much safer than keeping the water on-site.”
But what, exactly, does a “controlled release” mean? It involves a filtration process that would remove all radioactive elements from the water — except a barely harmful isotope called “tritium” — before dumping. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that’s often used to make nuclear bombs, cannot penetrate the human skin and isn’t thought to be pose much of a risk unless ingested.
“Tritium is not an isotope that builds up in the body,” Klein says. “A controlled release is better than storing thousands of tonnes on site.”
A process that has become more difficult by the day. Every day, nuclear officials report, an additional 400 tons of groundwater flows into the plant every day and becomes contaminated in a process that looks like this:
This, Japanese officials say, is a major problem. It got so bad last August, that the tanks leaked as much as 300 tons of untreated radioactive water into the ocean, causing all sorts of headaches for Japan’s leaders. “You cannot keep storing the water forever,” explains Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority. “We have to make a choice comparing all risks involved.”
The announcement comes at the same time that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he’s done mitigating a related risk. Though public anxieties over the future of nuclear power in Japan haven’t dissipated, Abe now says he’s ready to restart the nation’s 48 reactors that haven’t churned since the March 2011 disaster.
“I cannot draw up an energy policy under the premise of zero,” Abe told a budget committee in the lower house of Japan’s Diet. “I would like to restart reactors which have been confirmed safe according to strict standards.”