On January 21, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka of the Nuclear Regulation Authority spoke about the worker safety issue at Fukushima Daiichi following the death of a contractor employee. The employee slipped and fell from the top of a ten-meter high tank while helping secure the top cover of the container. Tanaka said one of the causes was Tepco continually building more and more tanks to store contaminated and decontaminated waters. He reiterated his opinion, made a few days earlier, that fully treated water should be released to the sea, as long as all radio-isotopic levels are below permissible limits.
Tanaka’s original statement caused a negative outcry from some of the public, and Fukushima fishermen, who did not want the releases to happen. The public reasoning was that even if contamination is well-below national standards, some radioactivity could remain and any detectible amount is unacceptable. The fishermen balked at Tanaka’s suggestion because any release to the sea could further damage the sale of Fukushima seafood in the marketplace.
After Tanaka’s January 21st restatement of his position, members of the public and Press in attendance shouted their continued disapproval. He responded with anger, “Even if a person dies?” He then turned to the Tepco Chairman and said,“It is important to listen to public opinion, but human life must not be lost for the sake of echoing public views. You are not yet demonstrating appropriate determination.” (1)
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of these blogs that this writer is not a big fan of Tanaka. However, in this case I must give him a hearty “well done”! About half of the 400,000 tons of wastewater stored at Fukushima Daiichi has been run through the multi-system decontamination process and cleansed to a purity approaching near-laboratory quality. Tepco has already said that any release will be run through mobile Strontium absorbers one final time to insure that the only radio-isotope remaining is Tritium, which is part of the water molecule itself. As I have written on many occasions, Tritium is biologically harmless.
To make the outcry from the public and Press even more ridiculous, Tepco has self-imposed limits that are ten to 15 times lower than Japan’s ultra-conservative drinking water standards. Further, this water will be released into the Pacific Ocean; not into a drinking water supply! And, no one drinks seawater, anyway! It seems that some segments of the Japanese public and Press believe that miniscule hypothetical risks are more important than human life!
Is Tepco taking heed of the NRA Chair’s admonition? It seems not! It appears Tepco is entirely comfortable with building more and more storage tanks, at considerable cost. They have ceased all decommissioning and recovery work at F. Daiichi until all worker safety considerations are checked and all contractors are fully trained in safety. This is also costing considerable time and money. However, the loss of life, as well as subsequent expenditures for upgraded worker safety, could have been easily avoided if Tepco had shown “appropriate determination” a long time ago and discharged the fully treated waters to the sea.
Yes…I’m mad as a wet hornet about this, and have been since word of the employee’s unfortunate demise hit the news last week. I called for Tepco to begin discharges to the sea in my September 27 Commentary; “A Plea to Tepco and Tokyo: Just Do it!” (2) NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka is telling Tepco to do the same thing., and start the discharges as soon as possible, before someone else gets hurt.
1 – Fall of Worker: NRA Chairman Urged TEPCO to Release Water to the Sea; http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news_images/pdf/ENGNEWS01_1421903957P.pdf