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Limited space no excuse for water dump: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-03-19 18:26

A worker stands near tanks used to store treated radioactive water on Friday at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. HIRO KOMAE/AP

Some equipment that Japan will use to discharge the nuclear contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant was put into operation for the first time on Friday shortly after passing an inspection by the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Yet its operation involves stirring the radioactive wastewater and homogenizing the concentration of radioactive substances, after which the equipment will measure whether the substances other than tritium are below the safety standards, as if stirring the water is all it takes to qualify it as part of the ocean.

Without effective third-party supervision, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, all inspections, measurement and final approval will be carried out and made unilaterally by Japan itself in an opaque way, leaving the rest of the world in the dark.

That Japan claimed that its discharge plan has been endorsed by the IAEA is not true. The IAEA Task Force has not yet finished its review and assessment. It has offered no final conclusion yet. And it found that the plan was inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards in many areas.

To know the effects of the "treatment" designed by Japan on the water, China presented a list of technical questions to Japan in November, but Japan has responded by distorting concepts, evading the crucial part or even refusing to talk about the matter. Tokyo is well aware that the disposal of the water is not a private matter of Japan, and answers to these crucial questions are also deep concerns of the world. It is obliged to keep the processing transparent for the supervision of the other parties, including the IAEA.

Regretfully, it chooses to turn a deaf ear to the strong opposition of the international community to its just-dump-it solution, which is scheduled to start at the end of this spring. Japan has been intentionally playing down the potential consequences of dumping 1.3 million tons of radioactive water into the sea, a process that will last for at least three decades involving much more wastewater than what is stored now.

Initial assessment shows that the nuclear contaminated water contains more than 60 radionuclides, including tritium, carbon-14, cobalt-60, strontium-90, iodine-129. The half-life of tritium is about 13 years, and that of carbon-14 is more than 5,000 years. There is not yet effective technology to treat many of those radionuclides. Some long-lived radionuclides may spread with the ocean currents and form a bio-concentration effect, which will multiply the total amount of radionuclides in the environment, causing unpredictable harm to the marine environment and human health.  

Japan proposed five ways to dispose of the nuclear contaminated water, injecting it into the ground, vapor release, release as hydrogen gas into the atmosphere and underground burial and discharging it into the ocean. However, the country did not conduct a thorough study of the other disposal options. Instead, it has used the excuse of limited space to stop building new storage tanks and is rushing ahead with its plan to discharge the nuclear contaminated water into the ocean to make it a fait accompli. The country never complained of a lack of space to hoard the gigantic amounts of oil and coal it stole from victim countries with its imperial aggression.

There should be no discharge of the water until all stakeholders and international organizations confirm that it is safe. It is incumbent on Japan to respond to the concerns of the world and dispose of the water in a responsible manner consistent with international legal obligations and safety standards.

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