Mar 17, 2020

Debate Continues Over Safety of Fukushima's Wastewater

Workers are still monitoring radioactive water pumped from Fukushima nuclear power plant


Inside a decontamination facility at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant, workers in hazmat suits are monitoring radioactive water pumped from three damaged reactors. 

Three lines of equipment connected to pipes allow the facility to process up to 750 tons of contaminated water a day, reported the Star Advertisers. There are four other lines in the plant that can process more, however.

The water is then pumped to a complex of about 1,000 temporary storage tanks that crowd the plant’s grounds. Additional tanks are still being built and officials predict the huge tanks will be completely full by the summer of 2022.

The decontamination process is a key element of a debate over what should be done with the nearly 1.2 million tons of radioactive water being closely watched by governments and organizations around the world, ahead of the summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), says it needs to free up space as work to decommission the damaged reactors approaches a critical phase. TEPCO will gradually release the water into the nearby ocean following a government decision allowing it to do so, but it is unclear when this will happen.

According to TEPCO Chief Decommissioning Officer Akira Ono, the water must be disposed as the plant’s decommissioning moves forward, since the area used by the tanks is needed to build facilities for the retrieval of melted reactor debris.

Workers are planning to remove a first batch of melted debris by December 2021, reported the Star Advertisers

Radioactive cooling water is leaking from the melted reactors and mixes with groundwater, which must be pumped up to keep it from flowing into the sea and elsewhere. Even more dangerously contaminated water sits in underground areas and leaks continuously into groundwater outside the plant, according to experts.

Despite repeated official reassurances, there are widespread worries about eating fish that might be affected if the contaminated water is released into the sea. According to Katsumi Shozugawa, a radiology expert at the University of Tokyo who has been analyzing groundwater around the plant, the long-term consequences of low-dose exposure has not been fully investigated.

TEPCO and government officials promise the plant will treat the water for a second time to meet legal requirements before any release, according to the Star Advertiser.

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