10th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster – concern over the dumping of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean
Dear Minister Hiroshi Kaiyama,
The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) share the concern of many governments and international environmental groups of reports that the Japanese Government is likely to approve for the dumping of over 1 million tonnes of radioactively contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. It outlines some of the core concerns around such a move in this letter, and we urge the Japanese Government to change its policy in this area.
It has been reported that the Japanese Government has decided to release the water, likely to put it on a collision course with local fishermen who say this move will destroy their industry and environmental groups concerned over the impacts of dumping such water into the Pacific Ocean. It has been suggested the work to release the water, which is being stored in more than 1,000 tanks on the site, would begin in 2022 and would take decades to complete. An official decision on this if it has now been made. If it has been planned to dump the water it would appear to try and end a long debate over what to do with the water, with other options including evaporation or the construction of more storage tanks at other sites. (1)
The NFLA has asked independent marine radioactivity consultant Tim Deere-Jones for his analysis on this proposed decision from the Japanese Government, given his extensive analysis on the marine issues around the Fukushima disaster. (2) In this letter, we have also drawn on the expert analysis of Dr Ian Fairlie who has publicly commented on these issues on a number of occasions, as well as on the previous Chernobyl disaster. (3)
Tim Deere-Jones makes the point that, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 there has been no coherent or sustained analysis of the impact of the post-event, ongoing, but unquantified discharges of tritium into the marine environment. Tritium is one of the main contaminants in the water that has been used to cool down the stricken reactors. While much of it has been stored in tanks, some of it will have already got into watercourses. (4)
As a result of the lack of such analysis, both the Japanese Government and nuclear industry has no significant empirical data to support any claim that the tritium released to date has NOT given rise to doses to the local coastal populations. In such a context, the proposal to dispose of the additional very high volumes of stored tritiated water, with its very high calculated aggregated radioactivity, is strongly contra-indicated.
Tim Deere-Jones has concluded that the Fukushima event (downstream) coastal populations are those most likely to emerge as the marine/coastal Critical Population Group due to their exposure to dietary doses of tritium (mostly as OBT) from both sea foods and terrestrial produce. The Fukushima event Coastal Critical Population Group is also strongly indicated as the potential receiver of inhalation doses of airborne tritium (due to sea to land transfer processes).
In the context of the emerging empirical evidence, and the significant data gaps described above and the release of over 1 million tonnes of highly tritiated water he concludes that the proposals lack both sufficient scientific rigour and justification and are of great concern because they put large numbers of sea food consumers and “downstream” Japanese coastal communities at major risk from the long term receipt of high dietary and inhalation doses of tritium.
NFLA also refers you to the excellent summary of the concerns around sea-dumping that has been made by independent consultant on radiation in the environment, Dr Ian Fairlie, which also can be found on his website. A key part of Dr Fairlie’s analysis also includes a note of emerging reports that the tank waters remain contaminated with other nuclides such as caesium-137 and especially strontium-90. This is due to the poor performance of Hitachi’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) at the site. Their concentrations are much lower than the tritium concentrations, but they are still unacceptably high. NFLA shares Dr Fairlie’s conclusion that the ALPS system has to be drastically improved. After that, some observers have argued that, ideally, the tritium should be separated out of the tank waters, though this may be extremely difficult to do.
As Dr Fairlie concludes:
“There are no easy answers here. Barring a miraculous technical discovery which is unlikely, I think TEPCO/Japanese Government will have to buy more land and keep on building more holding tanks to allow for tritium decay to take place. Ten half-lives for tritium is 123 years: that’s how long these tanks will have to last – at least. This will allow time not only for tritium to decay, but also for politicians to reflect on the wisdom of their support for nuclear power.”
Given these expert opinions, the NFLA is highly alarmed of the risks in general of dumping such large amounts of contaminated water into the sea when there is no clear idea of what impacts it may have to the marine environment and the public. NFLA also remain concerned that not enough research has been undertaken on the effects of tritium to justify such dumping into the ocean. Local fishing communities and the wider public are right to be concerned over the impact of such an act. As Dr Fairlie notes, the water should continue to be collected on the site and further scientific research should be undertaken.
The NFLA would like to know what the Japanese Government plans to do on this issue. It is also interested to get the Government’s views on the matters raised in this letter by Tim Deere-Jones and Dr Ian Fairlie.
On behalf of the UK & Ireland NFLA Steering Committee
(1) The Guardian, 16th October 2020
(2) NFLA Radioactive Waste Policy Briefing 62, April 2016
(3) Dr Ian Fairlie, September 18th 2019
(4) Summary of updated briefing to the NFLA by independent marine radioactivity consultant, Tim Deere-Jones:
In the absence of any detailed scientific data, the IAEA and the nuclear industry has theorised that liquid tritium (as tritiated water) was of low biological significance because it was a low activity beta emitter, which they propose would dissolve into infinity once it was placed in the marine environment.
Following the wholesale official adoption of this position, accepted in its entirety by the Japanese and other governments and regulatory agencies, who were even less well informed than the nuclear industry on this matter, there never has been a rigorous scientific justification, based on detailed empirical evidence, for the discharge to sea of tritiated water.
However the IAEA and the nuclear industry claim, that tritium is of low radiological significance, is now shown to be comprehensively inaccurate, but neither body has been prepared to act upon the outcomes of recent (post-1990’s) scientific and empirical studies which contradict almost every facet of the official (un-evidenced) hypothesis (see the report noted in footnote 2 which highlights some of that research).
The post-1990s research has shown that:
- tritium in discharged tritiated water binds to organic material in organically rich receiving marine environments.
- organically bound tritium (OBT) is very biologically available and quickly bio-concentrated through marine food webs.
- OBT is highly bio-accumulated in species towards the top of the marine/coastal trophic level (fish and seabirds). Such species typically held concentrations between 2,000 to 6,000 times greater than the concentrations in the receiving waters.
- OBT is of far greater radiological significance than tritiated water.
- from this work it may be deduced that elevated dietary doses of marine sourced tritium to humans (via sea foods) are strongly indicated. This is particularly relevant to high sea food consumer groups.
Other mechanisms for the delivery of dietary doses of marine discharged tritium (as tritiated water and OBT) via terrestrial coastal zone agricultural and horticultural produce are also indicated by the scientific studies of the sea to land transfer of marine soluble radioactivity, these include:
1: the consumption of meat and dairy products produced on coastal pasture washed by high tide, storm surge/coastal inundation events: as seen with other nuclides dissolved in sea water, such as Caesium Cs-137;
2: the consumption of terrestrial agricultural and arable products grown up to at least 10 miles inland, but contaminated by marine sourced tritium, transferred from the sea to the land in sea-spray and marine aerosols, blown in land by onshore winds and deposited onto crops and land surfaces as seen with other soluble nuclides (Cs 137);
3: in the context of the airborne sea to land transfer of water soluble radio nuclides, such as Caesium and Tritium, it is inevitable that coastal zone populations up to at least ten miles inland (and probably more) are also in receipt of inhalation doses;
4: From such data it may be proposed that human dietary doses of tritium, with evidence of significant bio-accumulation, are also to be expected from the coastal zone terrestrial produce dietary pathway in extensive areas of Japan’s Pacific coast where the conditions for sea to land transfer of radioactivity are highly favourable;
5: conditions for exposure of coastal populations to doses of additional tritium and OBT (by inundation and sea to land transfer) are favourable along the Fukushima (downstream) coast because of the direction of water body movements, ambient annual weather conditions of onshore winds, and seasonal storms including coastal inundations and high seas with a heavy surf line wave action and associated marine sea spray and aerosol production.