Japanese government plans to release radioactive contaminated water

Friends of the Earth Japan rejects this decision and is gathering signatures for contaminated water to be stored on land

Save our oceans, save our planet. Img: Foe Japan

“The Japanese government intends to proceed with its plan for environmental release of radioactive contaminated water that has been accumulating since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in 2011,” denounced Friends of the Earth Japan in a press release.

The environmental organisation has launched an online petition demanding the Japanese government that water be stored on land and solidified, instead of being discharged into the sea as proposed by the Subcommittee on Handling ALPS Treated Water.

The Fukushima nuclear plant was damaged by the tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March, 2011. Three plant reactors were flooded, releasing contaminated radioactive water into the surrounding area. 11 reactors were shut down and 12 back-up generators, as well as the heat exchangers used to discharge heat from both reactor waste and decomposition, were destroyed.

The Japanese government declared a Nuclear Emergency and the nuclear plant issued a 2km evacuation, which eventually expanded to 20km from the plant. Two weeks later, authorities said that the reactors had stabilised and by July recycled water from a new treatment plant was used cool to the reactors. The next step was to prevent any more contaminated water from escaping the reactors, using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which would allow water to be discharged into the sea.

“People have lost many things: our livelihoods, our purpose of life, our community, our precious time with friends, neighbours and families,” said Ayumi Fukakusa from Friends of the Earth Japan. And although high radiation was detected in the areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, “the government is making efforts to make this contaminated soil disappear from view, in addition to its policy of using this contaminated soil for construction works, for example,” added Fukakusa.

In their petition addressed to the Ministry of Economy, Commerce and Industry, Friends of the Earth Japan reports that currently approximately 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated water is being stored: “This water contains tritium (radioactive hydrogen) having 860 trillion becquerels of radiation, which cannot be removed using conventional equipment like ALPS (Advance Liquid Processing System). At present, more than 70% of the water stored in the tanks contains radioactive substances such as strontium 90, cesium 137, and iodine 129, totally exceeding emission concentration standards. These radioactive substances cannot be completely removed by a secondary treatment,” warns the environmental organisation.

“The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have stated that an additional 1,200 trillion becquerels worth of tritium are still contained in the plant buildings, which means that more contaminated water is likely to be released in the future,” continues the petition.

In January this year, Friends of the Earth Japan reported that: “On December 23, 2019, the Subcommittee on Handling of ALPS Treated Water, established by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to discuss how to deal with the ever-growing volume of water from the so-called Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), released a draft report offering three proposals to deal with treated contaminated water from the damaged TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant: discharge to the sea, vapor release, and a combination of the two.”

“All three options would spread radioactive substances into the environment. The draft report ignores alternatives for long-term storage on land, including large tank storage and mortar solidification,” they add.

Impacts of radiation on daily lives

The increase of radioactive contamination in the environment represents a threat for future life.

Together with Friends of the Earth Japan, several Japanese civil society groups are expressing their opposition, demanding that the ocean discharge plan be withdrawn and instead that the contaminated water be stored on land and solidified.

Fishing unions from Fukushima are also firmly opposing the discharge of water into the sea. “For them this threat to the fishing industry is a matter of life and death,” state social organisations in their petition to the government. “In Ibaraki Prefecture immediately south of Fukushima, there is also strong opposition to ocean release.”

“However, the government is still insisting that environmental discharge is the only option. Fukushima Prefecture authorities have held token public hearings and called for public comments, but their plan is to announce, by the summer of 2020, that the contaminated water will be discharged into the environment.”

You can sign the online petition here.

Watch the video testimonies from Fukushima, marking 34 years since the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (available in six languages.)

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