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All eyes on Japan's nuclear waste decision

By Zhang Zhouxiang | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-27 09:01


A month ago the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan had 1.23 million metric tons of contaminated water, and it will be full to capacity in 2022. The Japanese government will soon decide on whether to release the contaminated water it is storing in tanks into the Pacific Ocean.

A German oceanic research institute had earlier said the piped contaminated water could reach major parts of the Pacific Ocean in just 57 days; and in three years it would reach US and Canadian shores.

Greenpeace has warned against releasing such hazardous waste into the ocean. Apart from containing radioactive isotope tritium, the water also contains radioactive isotope carbon-14, a "major contributor to collective human radiation dose", which has the "potential to damage human DNA".

The plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has said the concentration of carbon-14 in the treated water is not high enough to cause harm.

However, according to Zhang Zili, an associate professor of radioactivity studies at the Institute of Electrical Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, even if the company shows laboratory studies to "prove" that the contaminated water is "harmless", there is no guarantee that it will not contaminate the ocean and thus cause great harm to marine life because the ocean is an extremely complex bio-system. No one can be 100 percent sure how much radioactive material gets accumulated in fish and lobsters and other marine life, and any oversight can prove costly.

The fears may not be unfounded. Even the United States has long stopped conducting underwater nuclear tests to avoid harming the ocean environment.

Besides, Japan's move will also set a bad precedent, giving other nuclear power plants the impression that they can get away with contaminating the ocean.

So, the Tokyo-based company's planned move is bound to trigger a global outcry. If it insists on doing so, we might see people getting evacuated from coastal cities in the US and Canada, while the world could see a major drop in seafood sales.

We hope that human lives and the environment are topmost on their mind when the authorities in Japan take the important decision.

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