Japan started releasing treated, but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.
The water is from its Fukushima nuclear power plant that, in 2011, underwent a meltdown and is considered one of the biggest nuclear tragedies in history.
Local authorities suggest that it may take up to 40 years to complete the decommissioning process.
One primary step in that process is to remove the roughly 1,000 water-filled tanks that cover much of the plant’s grounds. These tanks contained water used to cool three damaged reactors.
After the 2011 disaster, the radioactive water leaked into the plant’s basements where it was collected and later stored in tanks.
But Japan said the tanks will reach their capacity limit of 1. 37 million metric tons by 2024.
So the country has set its sites on the Pacific Ocean as a final resting place where TEPCO, the plant’s operator, plans to release 1 million metric tons over the next 30 years. That’s enough to fill 500 Olympic swimming pools.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has said, “The controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea, as currently planned and assessed by Tokyo Electric Power, would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”
Nuclear experts Insider spoke with agree the risk of radioactive poisoning or other harmful effects from the water’s release is minimal.
Why treated radioactive water is ‘quite safe’
This isn’t the first time humans have released water from nuclear plants into a larger body of water.
“Many nuclear facilities are allowed to discharge slightly radioactive water. Such discharges are at very low levels of radioactivity and are considered to be quite safe,” Kathryn Higley, a distinguished professor of nuclear science at Oregon State University, told Insider.
As far as radioactivity is concerned, releasing water that falls below a specific limit can be considered safe. And “the limits are well known,” Aldo Bonasera, a senior scientist and nuclear physics expert at Texas A&M University’s Cyclotron Institute, told Insider.
That’s significantly lower than the maximum limit for drinking water — 10,000 becquerels per liter — recommended by the World Health Organization, and lower than the US limit of 740 becquerels per liter.
“The water from the Fukushima plant has been treated so that it is less radioactive than what is allowed in drinking water in many countries,” Higley added. “So yes it is radioactive but only slightly and it is not harmful.”
Japan’s neighbors say it’s a bad idea
Not everyone is ready to believe in Japan’s safety claims. Among its neighbors, the country that appears most concerned is China.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “The ocean sustains humanity. It is not a sewer for Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water.”
He said that Japan hasn’t resolved global concerns about the purification facility’s reliability long-term, the accuracy of its radioactive water data, and monitoring measures.
“This act is selfish and irresponsible as it will cause nuclear contamination in the rest of world”, Wenbin said.
But experts in nuclear say the risk is very low.
“Many organizations examined the discharge action and agreed on this as the best course. I believe that this is environmentally the safest approach,” Higley said.
On the other hand, the Korean government stated, “There are no scientific or technical problems with the plan to release the contaminated water.”
That said, South Korea has banned Japanese seafood imports from areas near Fukushima since 2013 and said it will continue doing so.
Is the fish in the discharge zone safe to eat?
Apart from countries, many fishing companies, coastal communities, and organizations whose business depends on marine life in the Pacific have criticized Japan.
They fear that the decision will ruin their livelihood, as food and beverage companies and countries may not buy any fish or other products derived from radioactive waters.
Some environmental organizations are also supporting the fishing community.
Greenpeace said in a statement: “The decision disregards scientific evidence, violates the human rights of communities in Japan, and the Pacific region, and is non-compliant with international maritime law. More importantly, it ignores its people’s concerns, including fishermen.”
While addressing these concerns, the Japanese government ensured that it would regularly monitor the water and fish quality in the discharge zone.
When it comes to eating the fish, however, experts were torn.
“The level of radioactivity has been reviewed by multiple organizations to ensure that it is consistent with international practices,” Higley said. It is in my opinion safe. It is safe to eat the fish.”
But Bonasera said he would err on the side of caution.
“Fish moves over large distances, and to my knowledge, some fish captured in California contained some radioactivity produced in the Fukushima reactor,” Bonasera told Insider.
It’s worth noting here that what scientists measured in fish off the US West Coast were radionuclides of cesium 134Cs and 137Cs, not tritium. Of the two, 137 Cs is considered more dangerous and may increase cancer risk if ingested.
So, the fear of anything even related to radioactive elements in the ocean is real.
“Nothing the authorities do will stop the public, including me, from avoiding products that come out of the Fukushima area,” Bonasera said.
The post Japan released treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the ocean. The experts say that it is safe but you should avoid eating the fish. appeared first on Business Insider.