9 Septembre 2018
September 6, 2018
EDITORIAL: All options need to be weighed for Fukushima plant tainted water
The government has held public hearings on plans to deal with growing amounts of radioactive water from the ruined Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The hearings, held in Tomioka and Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture as well as in Tokyo, underscored the enormous difficulty government policymakers are having in grappling with the complicated policy challenge.
The crippled reactors at the plant are still generating huge amounts of water contaminated with radiation every day. Tons of groundwater percolating into the damaged reactor buildings as well as water being injected into the reactors to cool the melted fuel are constantly becoming contaminated.
Almost all the radioactive elements are removed from the water with a filtering system. But the system cannot catch tritium, a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
The tritium-contaminated water is stored on-site in hundreds of large tanks. As the number of tanks has reached 900, the remaining space for them is shrinking and expected to run out by around 2020, according to the government.
Clearly, time is growing short on deciding what to do about the problem.
A task force of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has considered five options, including release into the Pacific Ocean after dilution, injection into deep underground strata and release into the air after vaporization. The group has concluded that dumping the water into the ocean would be the quickest and least costly way to get rid of it.
This is seen as the best option within the government.
Tritium is a common radioactive element in the environment that is formed naturally by atmospheric processes. Nuclear power plants across the nation release tritium produced in their operations into the sea according to legal safety standards.
But these facts do not automatically mean that releasing the tritium-laced water into the sea off Fukushima is a good approach to the problem.
Local communities in areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster are making strenuous efforts to rebuild the local fishing and agricultural industries that have been battered by the radiation scare. There are still countries that ban imports of foodstuffs produced in Fukushima Prefecture.
Local fishermen and other community members have every reason to oppose the idea of releasing tritium into the ocean. They are naturally concerned that the discharge would produce new bad rumors that deliver an additional blow to the reputation and sales of Fukushima food products.
Unsurprisingly, most of the citizens who spoke at the hearings voiced their opposition to the idea.
Moreover, it was reported last month that high levels of radioactive strontium and iodine surpassing safety standards had been detected in the treated water.
The revelation has made local communities even more distrustful of what they have been told about operations to deal with the radioactive water.
It is obvious that the hearings at only three locations are not enough to sell any plan to cope with the sticky problem to skeptical local residents. The government needs to create more opportunities for communication with them.
In doing so, the government should show a flexible stance without adamantly making the case for the idea of releasing the water into the sea. Otherwise, there can be no constructive debate on the issue.
It can only hope to win the trust of the local communities if it gives serious consideration to other options as well.
During the hearings, many speakers suggested that the water should be kept in large tanks until the radioactivity level falls to a very low level.
The pros and cons of all possible options, including this proposal, should be weighed carefully through cool-headed debate before the decision is made.
Repeated discussions with fruitful exchanges of views among experts and citizens including local residents are crucial for ensuring that the final decision on the plan will win broad public support.
The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, should disclose sufficient information for such discussions and give thoughtful and scrupulous explanations about relevant issues and details.
The government, which has been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy priority, has the responsibility of building a broad and solid consensus on this problem.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6