(Featured image provided by sciencemag.org)
It all started in 2011, when the Fukushima nuclear power plant was crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The result was over a million tons of radioactive wastewater, and no place to put it. Not only that, but the process to cool the other reactors damaged in the earthquake also generates 150 extra tons of radioactive water per day. At first the government decided to just store it, but it soon became apparent that there wouldn’t be enough space to contain all the water.
In 2019, the Japanese government brought diplomats from 22 other countries to help decide what to do about the situation. Many solutions were considered, one of them was to remove the most dangerous chemicals from the water, and then release it into the ocean. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, none of the diplomats held any objections, and they officially announced that they would move forward with the plan as of this Tuesday.
They plan to start slowly releasing the water in 2023, but it could be decades before they’re rid of all of it. Prior to releasing it, they’ll utilize powerful filters to remove all of the radioactive chemicals from the water except for tritium, which the government claims to not be hazardous to human health in small doses. However, the idea isn’t popular among most of Japan’s neighbors.
China hasn’t said much other than that they have “grave concerns,” and Taiwan has also made some complaints. South Korea, the closest country to Japan, condemned it saying how it’s “utterly intolerable,” and how it’s an “unilateral action” to proceed without consulting them first. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said in an interview that this statement was hypocrisy. Tanaka stated how South Korea has four huge water reactors that distribute water which contain more tritium than the Fukushima water everyday. Organizations such as Greenpeace note that it’s a cheap way to fix the problem, but hugely ignores the potential environmental impact. Japan may be able to get their neighbors agreeing with them eventually, but not even most of its citizens like the plan either.
A poll last year by the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper company, showed that 55% of the citizens that took the poll opposed the plan. It’s also widely hated in the city of Fukushima itself, since most of the residents fear it will destroy their local fishing industry. The government has tried to calm the opposition by providing money for seafood radiation screenings, holding public hearings of the plan, and exporting fish from Fukushima that they say is perfectly fine. However, most of these efforts have had little effect.
Although, not all oppose the plan. The United States is in fact in support of it. Even the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has come out saying that it’s “in line with practice globally, even though the large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.”
In order to have a chance to change people’s minds, Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues, says that the government will have to “improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships.” “From my perspective, it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people,” said he.
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