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Fukushima: Japan to discharge 1.25M tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean
"We believe that discharges into the Ocean are a realistic option, as long as they are carried out in secure conditions." This announcement was made by the Japanese Prime Minister on April 13, regarding the decision to discharge into the Pacific Ocean more than a million tonnes of contaminated water which, since 2011, have been stored near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. The remarks, which remain totally hypothetical in terms of the health and environmental consequences of such an operation, have alarmed Surfrider Europe, which is resolutely fighting against ocean pollution and the degradation of water quality.
Dumping contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean: the controversial Japanese decision
For ten years now, tons of water contaminated by the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have accumulated in thousands of cisterns. Since the accident, this water, which has drained irradiated materials and comes from groundwater, precipitation and the injections needed to cool the reactors, has been carefully stored in order to prevent it from spilling out and contaminating the soil.
By 2022, however, storage capacities are likely to reach their limit and a solution has to be found in order to evacuate 1.25 million tonnes of radioactive liquid. After debating the issue for seven years, the Japanese government has taken its decision and plans to gradually dilute the water in the Pacific Ocean. The operation, which is expected to begin in two years time, could then span over several decades.
There is no such thing as zero risk: filtered water is still contaminated
While the authorities assure that, after filtration, the concentration levels of radioactive substances in the discharged water will be lower than the required safety standards, certain materials will never disappear from its composition. This is particularly the case with carbon 14, strontium or tritium, which no industrial process is currently able to eliminate. And, although experts claim that tritium is dangerous to human health only at very high doses, it has a half-life of twelve years (it does not break down by half in the environment until after twelve years) and continues emitting low energy radiation... Is exposure to such rays, even at low intensity, really safe in the long term? Experts remain completely unsure on these issues.
Meanwhile, since the 2011 explosion, cases of thyroid cancer have increased among young people in the Fukushima area, and research is still in progress on the human and environmental dangers caused by the various radionuclides present in the water and the air. Given the lack of scientific evidence, Surfrider Europe condemns Japan's decision to discharge water from the nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.
A purely economic choice?
This decision seems especially absurd in as far as other solutions are available: why not install new storage tanks, for example, until the technology evolves and a way is found to completely decontaminate the water? Why not use more advanced treatments to separate the tritium from the water molecule before discharging?
It should perhaps be pointed out that, among all the solutions mentioned, immediate dilution in the ocean remains the least expensive. The commission of experts from the Japanese Ministry of Economy and Industry has revealed that it would be 10 to 100 times cheaper than other techniques: once again, political choices seem to be dictated more by economic interests than by environmental, health and social arguments.
Water quality must not be neglected: assessment must be reinforced
This announcement, which has been condemned by the international community, comes at a time when sea users are showing increasing concern about the environmental and health issues linked to pollution problems, and are calling for improved monitoring and more controls. Already last October, Russian surfers alerted environmental and international organizations after falling victim to vomiting, fever and violent itching during their session. In this particular case, the symptoms were directly linked to chemical pollution in the water caused by toxic products from pesticide treatment sites but such symptoms have been observed in other coastal recreational areas all over the world, and this absolutely has to stop.
This is the context in which Surfrider Europe is campaigning to improve water quality assessment measures at European level, particularly in order to guarantee clean water for sea users. As one of the experts mandated by the EU, the association is working on the revision of the directive on the monitoring of the quality of bathing water, which is scheduled for this year. The NGO is advocating improved research in order to anticipate and better manage health and environmental risks, and is also seeking to integrate new parameters in the assessment of water quality. Among these, particular attention is being paid to chemical substances: pesticides, fertilizers, medicines, cosmetics, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, radioactive elements, etc. These substances, which are dangerous for the environment and human health, must be subject to surveillance and cannot be dumped without impunity into our Ocean, for the Ocean is essential to the proper functioning of the planet.