Oct 20, 2019

Overreacting Over Radioactive Wastewater?

This editorial originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of iWWD as "A Radioactive Problem?"

Bob Crossen, senior managing editor

When it comes to treatment of industrial water and wastewater, the general public can quickly get up in arms before knowing the full story. It is easy for news agencies and other media platforms—iWWD included—to write headlines about polluted waterways and pumping contaminated water into aquifers to gain clicks and pageviews, and I almost fell prey to this thinking

In early September, Japan’s Environmental Minister Yoshiaka Harada commented on a years-long contamination issue with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In 2011, the plant was inundated by a tsunami, leading to meltdowns of its reactors. It used water to keep them cool, and ultimately, stored that water because it was not fit for discharge.

However, the facility worries that by next year it will run out of space to store this wastewater, which is where Harada enters the picture. He told reporters during a news briefing that releasing the water into the ocean would be the best course of action, and this set off a series of reports and social media posts criticizing the country for this decision.

In reality, though, the suggested process to discharge had yet to begin, and in fact, Japan is awaiting input from a panel of experts before making a decision of what to do with this radioactive wastewater. Additionally, the extent to which the water would be treated was never mentioned in the news articles I read on this issue. 

This situation very well could become more dire later down the line, but at this specific juncture it seemed overblown. That said, I understand the outcry to ensure our water is protected. It is critical to address the wastewater’s disposal before it happens. Because when it eventually is discharged, that decision is practically irreversible.

About the author

Bob Crossen is senior managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Crossen can be reached at [email protected].