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Scary Stuff: How the Dumping of Fukushima’s Water Will Affect You

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It’s been close to 10 years since the devastating Fukushima Disaster where there was a meltdown of three reactor cores at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant. Over 1 million tons of radiation-laced water is stored in tanks so it won’t escape into the ocean or elsewhere. But now, government officials have seen fit to release that water slowly into the Pacific oceans with most (but not all) of the radioactive materials removed.

The Japanese government has said that dumping the radioactive water into the ocean is “the only option.”

On March 11, 2011, a terrible earthquake struck Japan. The quake triggered a tsunami with waves reaching up to 133 feet high, which caused three nuclear meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. As a result, there are more than 1 million tons of contaminated water being stored in Fukushima. Most of that was water which was injected into the reactor cores to cool them down and to stop the meltdowns. Some of it is groundwater which seeped up through cracks in the foundation, mixing with the radioactive material inside the facility.

“For years, a government panel has been discussing ways to handle the crisis and to reassure fishermen and residents who fear possible health effects from releasing the radioactive water as well as harm to the region’s image and fishing industry.

Fukushima fishermen and the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations have strongly opposed past suggestions by government officials that the water be released to the sea, warning of an “immeasurable impact on the future of the Japanese fishing industry,” with local fishermen still unable to resume full operations after the nuclear plant accident.

The water has been treated, and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., says all 62 radioactive elements it contains can be removed to levels not harmful to humans except for tritium. There is no established method to fully separate tritium from water, but scientists say it is not a problem in small amounts. Most of the water stored at the plant still contains other radioactive elements including cancer-causing cesium and strontium and needs further treatment.” –Outdoor Revival

Yoshiaki Harada, Japan’s Environment Minister, recently said in a press briefing that when that space to store contaminated water is gone, they will have no choice but to dump it into the Pacific Ocean in order to “dilute” the contamination. What that really means is that it will spread out in the ocean, spreading contamination to other areas.

The ministry suggested a controlled release of the water into the Pacific, allowing the water to evaporate, or a combination of the two methods. The ministry said the controlled release to the sea is the best option because it would “stably dilute and disperse” the water from the plant and can be properly monitored. A release is expected to take years and radiation levels will be kept well below the legal limit, the proposal said.

The ministry noted that tritium has been routinely released from nuclear plants around the world, including Fukushima before the accident. Evaporation has been a tested and proven method following the 1979 core meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States, where it took two years to get rid of 8,700 tons of tritium-contaminated water, according to ABC News. 

Is This Safe?

Environmentalists are concerned about the effects this decision will have on the ocean and the lifeforms living in the ocean.  Fishermen’s groups are strongly opposed to it and the South Korean government has made it clear if Japan goes ahead it will further damage an already fraught relationship.

Tritium, the least radioactive, and least harmful, of all radioactive elements is the main one that will be dumped. All of the other radioactive elements have been removed from the water by chemical treatment down to low levels and the amount of other elements in the water is relatively small and wouldn’t pose a hazard diluted to this degree.

What is Tritium and its effects?

Since tritium is a low energy beta emitter, it is not dangerous externally (its beta particles are unable to penetrate the skin), but it can be a radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food or water, or absorbed through the skin.

Tritium is just assumed to be carcinogenic to humans at extremely high levels, although that claim is only hypothetical since adverse health effects from tritium have never appeared in humans or in the environment.

What is Cessium and its effects?

Cesium is a naturally-occurring element found in rocks, soil, and dust at low concentrations.  Stable cesium is not likely to affect the health of children, but large amounts of gamma radiation, from sources such as radioactive cesium, could damage cells and might also cause cancer. Short exposure to extremely large amounts of radiation might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, coma, and even death.

Related: Radioactive Particles From Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Found in California Wine

Radioactive particles have already been found in California wines, however, most still don’t think dumping radioactive water into the ocean is such a big deal. We may not know until it’s done, and by then, it will be too late to go back.


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