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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 24 December, 2019

  • Min Read

Japan govt. proposes release of Fukushima water

Syllabus subtopic: Disaster and disaster management.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its impact; concerns regarding releasing contaminated water in the sea

News: On Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed gradually releasing the water into the ocean or allowing it to evaporate, saying a controlled discharge into the sea would “stably dilute and disperse” it. The ministry ruled out alternatives like continuing to store it in tanks or injecting it deep into the ground. Abe’s Cabinet will make the final decision.

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet and Tokyo Electric Power Co. — operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where a triple meltdown led to the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl — must decide what to do with more than 1 million tons of contaminated water stored in about 1,000 giant tanks on the plant site.

Concerns

  • Japan’s fishermen losing their livelihood as the government considers releasing tainted water from a nuclear power plant destroyed by the tsunami’s waves.
  • With Fukushima preparing to host baseball games during the Summer Olympics next year, and the plant running out of land on which to build storage tanks, the debate has taken on a sense of urgency.

Water contamination at the plant

  • The water becomes contaminated as it is pumped through the reactors to cool melted fuel that is still too hot and radioactive to remove. For years, the power company, known as TEPCO, said that treatment of the water — which involves sending it through a powerful filtration system to remove most radioactive material — was making it safe to release.

  • But it is actually more radioactive than authorities have previously publicized. Officials say that it will be treated again and that it will then be safe for release.

  • Regardless of government assurances, if the water is discharged into the sea, it will most likely destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen. Consumers are already worried about the safety of Fukushima seafood, and dumping the water would compound the fears.

  • Until last year, TEPCO indicated that with the vast majority of the water, all but one type of radioactive material — tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say poses a relatively low risk to human health — had been removed to levels deemed safe for discharge under Japanese government standards. But last summer, the power company acknowledged that only about a fifth of the stored water had been effectively treated.

  • Last month, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry briefed reporters and diplomats about the water stored in Fukushima. More than three-quarters of it, the ministry said, still contains radioactive material other than tritium — and at higher levels than the government considers safe for human health.

What do the scientists say?

  • If the water is processed so that the only radioactive materials that remain are low levels of tritium, releasing it into the ocean would be the best solution in terms of cost and safety. The functioning nuclear plants around the world release diluted water containing tritium into the ocean.
  • Some scientists said they would need proof before believing that the Fukushima water was treated to safe levels.

Present Scenario

  • More than 20 countries still have import restrictions on Japanese seafood and other agricultural products that were imposed after the 2011 disaster. Earlier this year, the European Union lifted its ban on some products.
  • In Fukushima, the fishing industry brings only about 15% of its pre-disaster catch levels to market. Every haul is sampled and screened in labs run by Fukushima’s prefectural government and the fisheries cooperative.

About Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, 2011

  • Fukushima accident, also called Fukushima nuclear accident or Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, accident in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi (“Number One”) plant in northern Japan, the second worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power generation.
  • The site is on Japan’s Pacific coast, in northeastern Fukushima prefecture about 100 km (60 miles) south of Sendai. The facility, operated by the Tokyo Electric and Power Company (TEPCO), was made up of six boiling-water reactors constructed between 1971 and 1979. At the time of the accident, only reactors 1–3 were operational, and reactor 4 served as temporary storage for spent fuel rods.

Source: Indian Express


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