On April 13th 2021, at a Cabinet meeting, the Japanese government decided to discharge so-called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) treated water stored in tanks at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. There have been no public briefings or hearings since the ALPS subcommittee’s report was released back in February 2020. There were proposals for solidified mortar and stable storage in large robust tanks used for storing oil, but such alternatives were not considered or discussed at all. The decision was made through a highly undemocratic process, ignoring many voices of opposition and concern both at home and abroad, including those in the fishing industry. We strongly condemn this decision.
1.Total amount of radioactive material contained in the water is unknown
The water in the tank contains about 860 trillion becquerels of tritium. In addition, about 1,200 trillion becquerels are estimated to remain in the reactor building and inside the reactor.
Not only tritium but also radioactive materials such as cesium 134, cesium 137, strontium 90 and iodine 129 remained, and the total concentration ratio of 1 was exceeded in about 70% of the water. It was reported by Kyodo News for the first time in 2018 that radioactive materials other than tritium remained in the reactor. Until then, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had said that all radioactive materials other than tritium would be removed and that they would fall below the standards.
At present, TEPCO says that radioactive materials other than tritium will be made “lower than standard by secondary treatment” but it has not indicated what kind of and how much radioactive materials will remain in the water after the secondary treatment.
The government plans to release 22 trillion becquerels of tritium per year into the ocean. Before the nuclear accident, the amount of tritium released into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was 1.5 ~ 2 trillion becquerels per year. That means releasing about 10 times that amount of tritium into the ocean for several 10 years.
TEPCO says it will limit the amount of radioactive materials in treated water to 1,500 becquerels per liter when discharged into the sea. Some media are calling this “a release of treated water diluted to 1/40 of standard” but this is very misleading. 60,000 Becquerel/liter is the standard for tritium alone.
At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, when determining tritium concentrations in wastewater from groundwater, etc., contamination from other sources such as facilities on the site were taken into consideration in order to achieve an annual additional dose of 1 millisievert, which is the legal standard within the site, and other nuclides contained in the wastewater were also taken into consideration, and the level was set at 1,500 becquerels/liter. In other words, it should be noted that 1,500 becquerels per liter was just a regulatory requirement.
2. Alternatives never discussed or taken into account
The Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, some of whose members are engineers and researchers, proposed large tank storage and the mortar solidification, and submitted that to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. These were not considered at all, despite the fact that these measures were well documented and have strong track records.
The “large tank storage plan ” is a plan to build a large tank with a dome roof and a water-sealed vent. As for the construction site, there is an area that had been spared for reactor No. 7 and No. 8 on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and a dump site. Large tanks are used for oil stock and other purposes.
If a dome roof option is adopted, there is no need to worry about rainwater contamination. The installation of the dike is also included. The “Mortar Solidification Plan” is a method used for the disposal of contaminated water at the Savannah River Nuclear Facility in the United States. The contaminated water is mortar made of cement and sand and stored in a semi-underground condition.
The report by the ALPS subcommittee only contained TEPCO’s unilateral denial of the large tank storage plan. In the process, no hearings were conducted with the Nuclear Citizens’ Committee that made the proposal.
3. Breaking the promise with fishery communities
Since immediately after the accident, local fishermen have suffered from the intentional and unintentional discharge of contaminated water by TEPCO. In April 2011, TEPCO released 10,000 tons of contaminated water as an emergency measure. At that time, there was no consultation with the fishermen, and the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations strongly protested against TEPCO.
In 2013, TEPCO announced that highly radioactive water continued to flow out of the plant’s premises. In 2015, when the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Associations was forced to agree to discharge water from groundwater bypasses and sub-drains into the ocean, TEPCO promised that it would not dispose of the ALPS-treated contaminated water stored in tanks without the understanding of relevant parties. Releasing the contaminated water into the sea would break this promise.
Local and national fishers have repeatedly expressed opposition.
Mr.Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefecture Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, strongly opposes the idea, saying, “We are strongly opposed to the discharge [of contaminated water] into the sea from the viewpoint of we fishing communities fishing fishes and shellfishes grown in the ocean as a regular business, and demand strict management using storage on land by tanks etc.”.
Fishermen in Fukushima are not the only ones who oppose the idea of discharge into the sea. In February 2020, the Ibaraki Federation of Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Associations also requested that contaminated water not be discharged into the sea. The Miyagi prefectural fisheries federation has also expressed its opposition to the release of the radioactive waste into the sea. In a survey conducted by Friends of the Earth Japan to fisheries cooperatives in the six prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, and Tokyo, almost all cooperatives were opposed to the idea of ocean discharge.
On June 23, 2020, the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations unanimously adopted a special resolution against the release of contaminated water into the sea.
A fisherman told us, “Little by little, progress has been made toward the restoration of fisheries. We cannot regain our competitiveness unless we improve the sea in Fukushima. No matter how much it is purified, it contains radioactivity. I oppose the release of it into the ocean”. The government should listen to these fishermen.
4. Undemocratic decision-making process
Since the subcommittee compiled the report, the ministry has not held public briefings or public hearings on its content.
Instead of holding public hearings, the ministry has held seven meetings since April 2020 in Fukushima and Tokyo to hear opinions from representatives of industry groups and local governments of its choice. The meetings were attended by senior vice ministers from the ministries, with the heads of local governments and representatives of organizations, who had been briefed by METI in advance, expressing their opinions one by one, and with little question and answer.
Of the 44 people who spoke, 43 were men. As a result, the voices of women and young people were not heard.
Even at such a formal hearing, not only the Fukushima Prefecture Fishery Federation but also the Fukushima Prefecture Federation of Forestry Cooperatives and the Fukushima Prefecture Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives expressed their opposition to the release into the sea and into the air. In other words, local primary industry groups all opposed.
5. Open and transparent discussion needed
The government and media have downplayed the impact of the release of ALPS-treated water into the ocean by limiting it to “harmful rumors” or fuhyohigai. However, the release of treated contaminated water into the ocean is the release of radioactive material into the environment. The nuclear accident was a man-made disaster, and the government and TEPCO have responsibility for the accident. The government’s approach of emphasizing only “harmful rumors” makes people who point out the effects and risks of ocean discharges appear as if they were the perpetrators, thus shutting down the sound discussions.
It’s not too late now. The government should disclose the information on the total amount of radioactive material contained in the treated contaminated water and conduct an open review and discussion of alternatives and risks.
For more information contact:
Climate Change and Energy Campaigner
Friends of the Earth Japan