This week, the head of the IAEA Fukushima inspection team urged Tepco to release fully treated Fukushima wastewaters to the sea. At a news conference in Tokyo, Juan Carlos Lentijo said, “Controlled discharges are a normal practice in the industry. Most of the [world’s] nuclear power plants are discharging treated water. This is accomplished with negligible impact on the environment and the safety of the people.” The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, said essentially the same thing last month. In response to a worker falling to his death while fabricating yet another giant storage tank, Tanaka asserted, “Tokyo Electric Power must consider whether it (storing the water) is really necessary. It is surely harmful if it leads to the death of workers. It is important to listen to public opinion, but human life must not be lost for the sake of echoing public views. You [Tepco] are not yet demonstrating appropriate determination.”
All waste waters are run through what is essentially a three stage process to remove radioactive isotopes. The first is a cesium absorption system that has worked better than expected. It was hoped it would have a removal factor of 1,000, but has actually had a Cesium decontamination factor of more than 10,000. The next stage is called ALPS; Advanced Liquid Processing System. ALPS strips the water discharged from the Cesium absorbers of all additional radioisotopes, except one – Tritium. Since ALPS’ output has a tiny amount of radioactive Strontium in it, Tepco recently added a mobile Strontium removal system as the final step in the process. All that remains is water… Water so chemically pure it rivals that used in research facilities. Water so chemically pure it would probably not conduct electricity!
One might ask, what about the Tritium? Tritium is hydrogen, albeit the element’s radioactive isotope. The Tritium is an integral part of water molecules in the storage tanks, just the same as the non-radioactive isotope of hydrogen found in all water molecules of the universe. Tritium is also biologically innocuous; i.e. it will not harm organisms. (For more detail, click on “Background Information on Tritium” in the left-hand column)
In the best of all possible worlds, and in any other country on our planet, the Tritium-only waters would already have been dumped into the Pacific Ocean, and the unfortunate death of the plant worker last month would never have happened! But, Japan is not the best of all possible worlds when it comes to radiation. In fact, it may well be the worst!
Unbridled fear of radiation (radiophobia), no matter how trivial, infects millions of Japanese citizens. If radiation is detectible, it is unacceptable. The Japanese Press continually uses the term “tainted” to describe any waters found to have radioactive isotopes in it, or have had contamination in it. Thus, the Press recurrently reinforces radiophobia in the minds of those so-afflicted. In fact, the mere possibility of radiation triggers this paranoiac aversion.
Less than 48 hours after NRA Chair Tanaka urged Tepco to discharge fully-treated waters, the Fukushima Fisheries demanded this not happen. Why? Because it would possibly further hurt sale of their catches in Japan’s large marketplaces. Surveys show that as much as 20% of the public shuns any foods coming out of Fukushima Prefecture, whether or not it contains detectible contaminants. It doesn’t matter that all Fukushima foods must pass the most stringent marketing restrictions in the world. The food might have some radioactive material in it that is too little to be detected. After all, if it’s from Fukushima, it must be tainted. This is why the Fukushima Fisheries are convinced that releasing the tritiated waters to the sea would make a bad situation worse.
Unfortunately, they are probably right.
A Japanese colleague who lives in Japan says fear of radiation has infected the island nation since the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. He says millions believe that all of the people killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were due to fallout; i.e. they all died due to radiation exposure. Actually, of the 200,000 who died due to the nuclear bombings, more than 97% were due to the two horrific explosions, and not due to radiation. It seems that Japan’s government neglected to tell its people this simple fact and it has become a foundation of the country’s current fear of radiation, exacerbated by a complete lack of education about radiation over the past seven decades!
This is my fourth Fukushima Commentary posting on the matter. My first “A Plea to Tepco and Tokyo – Just Do It!” was on 9/27/14, the second “Radiophobia increasing in Japan’s markets (again)” on 10/8/14, and the next was “Japan’s NRA chief is right: Tepco should release water ASAP” on 1/28/15. If this is beginning to sound like a stuck record, so be it. Franklin Roosevelt once said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It seems that such a concept is alien to Japan’s numerous radiophobic demographic. Tepco seems more concerned about catering to their unfounded fears than releasing the entirely harmless wastewater to the sea.