TOKYO – The Japanese government said on Thursday health risk to humans remains very low if Fukushima-contaminated water was released into sea after being treated.
Speaking to journalists, officials said the government would, however, continue consultations before going ahead with the measure that has sparked radiation outrage among neighboring countries and environmentalists.
Controlled discharge of the partially decontaminated water into the Pacific Ocean is currently the most viable option available to the government to solve one of the most pressing problems in dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
It is the water used to cool reactors damaged by the 2011 nuclear disaster and subsequently treated to remove most of the radioactive isotopes and stored in tanks within the nuclear compound.
In addition to this is the inland groundwater that has seeped into the nuclear facilities and also become contaminated by the radioactive materials, a process that the authorities have tried to minimize with the construction of an underground ice wall.
There is currently 1.17 million cubic meters of water that has been processed to remove all radioactive elements except tritium, according to the latest data provided by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the company that operates the plant.
This water is stored in some 1,000 tanks inside the plant, but at the current rate of treating the radioactive water, TEPCO estimates that it will run out of space to store it by mid-2022.
A panel composed of the Japanese government, TEPCO, local authorities and scientific experts have been studying different measures since 2013 to deal with this problem and are currently in the final phase of discussions to take a decision, government officials said at a meeting with journalists on Thursday.
Releasing the treated water into the sea is the option that been analyzed the most given its feasibility with existing technology and that it has the approval of scientists, who consider that the low concentration of tritium in the water and its dissolution in the sea would pose an extremely low risk of radiation for humans.
According to official estimates, radioactive exposure from the released water would be between 0.052 and 0.62 microsieverts per year (including consumption of fishery products), well below the average level of natural radiation (about 2,100 microsieverts annually).
The Japanese government also maintains that the discharge will take place within the standards of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and recalls that several countries have made similar discharges in recent years and even with larger amounts of tritium.
These arguments have failed to allay the fears of neighboring countries such as South Korea, which have spoken out against the dumping in various international forums as well as those of environmental and anti-nuclear organizations that maintain their reservations because of the long-term effects of radiation.
In any case, the Japanese authorities will not take a final decision until it has completed the process of consultations with the local population, which stands to lose the most from a potential negative impact resulting from the stigmatization of their fishery products, one of the main economic activities of the Fukushima prefecture.