NFLA / KIMO International joint media release
The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Steering Committee Chair is urgently writing to the Japanese Government to raise its deep concerns over comments made by its Environment Minister that over 1 million tonnes of radioactively contaminated water, used in cooling the stricken Fukushima reactors, could be dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
The contaminated water is in over a thousand storage tanks on the Fukushima site. The water has been used to cool down the damaged reactors to prevent a wider radiation disaster. For the past couple of years nuclear regulatory agencies, and now a Government appointed expert panel, has been considering what to do with this material, which, while treated to take out some of the radioactive particles, still contains tritium. It has recently been reported by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) that they will run out of space on the site to store the water in around 2022.
Media reports in the Guardian quote the Japanese Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada as saying:
“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it. The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.”
Also reported in the Guardian is a recent study by Hiroshi Miyano, who is the Chair of an internal committee studying the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi at the Atomic Energy Society of Japan. He said it could take 17 years to discharge the treated water after it has been diluted to reduce radioactive substances to levels that meet the plant’s safety standards. (1)
NFLA are deeply concerned over what the dumping of such a large amount of radioactively contaminated water would have on the ecosystems of the Pacific Ocean, both marine life, fish and the coastal environment. It is clear that very small levels of radiation contamination originating from the Fukushima disaster has been found as far as Canada, the United States and Russia. For NFLA, releasing such a large additional amount of contaminated water must intensify the environmental risk and danger to the public and the marine environment.
In the letter, NFLA also call for the Japanese Ministry for the Environment to disclose the tritium concentrations (i.e. Bq/L) in each of the holding tanks on the Fukushima site.
Independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones says it is incorrect for TEPCO or the Japanese Government to suggest there is no abatement technology for tritium in liquid wastes. He notes a 2004 IAEA technical report (no 421) which includes: “Management of Waste containing Tritium & Carbon 14” and several chapters on tritium waste in aqueous/liquid waste streams. The report concludes that 9 processes were identified as showing potential for the removal of tritium from such streams. The IAEA review though argued that 6 of these were “impractical” and “uncompetitive”. No technical or process impracticalities were referenced and it is Tim Deere-Jones’ assumption that “impractical and uncompetitive” means in the IAEA’s view prohibitively expensive. In the NFLA’s view it would appear imperative to consider such technology as an alternative to extensive ocean dumping, regardless of the cost, given the environmental sensitivity in ocean dumping.
It should be noted that at public hearings on what to do with this water, over 42 of 44 representative speakers stated clearly that they opposed ocean discharge. Some of the key issues raised at the hearings include (2):
- The government should consider proposals for long-term storage in large tanks.
- There has been a failure to consider total discharge volume controls and cumulative impacts.
- The annual control target value for tritium discharge before the Fukushima Daiichi accident was 22 trillion Bq, but the ocean release proposal surpasses that amount.
- The risks (bioaccumulation, internal exposure, uptake into DNA) of organically bound tritium have not been sufficiently studied and explained.
- This will become an international issue. It may be in conflict with the intent of the London Convention (Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972).
NFLA share these concerns and are in communication with Japanese environmental and fishing groups and the Mayors for a Nuclear Power Free Japan over the deep local opposition to this move.
At a time when the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics are close to taking place, there must be real concern over the public and animal health issues around ocean dumping.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“NFLA has kept a close eye on the ongoing impacts of the Fukushima disaster, which remains an incident with a plethora of serious environmental consequences. We are deeply concerned over the huge environmental and marine pollution risks to the Pacific Ocean and coastal communities from Fukushima. The effects of dumping so much water containing tritium and potentially other radioactive elements into the Pacific Ocean is clearly not known, and far more research is required to both protect the public and marine life. Fukushima is clear evidence of the unreasonable risks that exist with nuclear power when it goes wrong, and now many more people, creatures and the environment could be affected by a decision to allow ocean
KIMO International Executive Secretary, Arabelle Bentley, said:
“KIMO is alarmed about the significant environmental impact of dumping of contaminated water into the ocean and the consequent harm to marine life, coastal communities, industry and tourism. Their safeguarding is of paramount importance and KIMO believes that dumping this potentially harmful waste water without due diligence or mitigating actions would be both reckless and unacceptable. KIMO joins with NFLA in urging the Japanese Government to work to find alternative solutions that do not pose a threat to the marine environment or to human health.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) The Guardian, 10th September 2019
(2) Friends of the Earth Japan, ‘Fukushima Today and Japan’s Energy Future 2019’. March 2019