September 27, 2014
Tepco says that nearly 135,000 tons (~33.75 million gallons) of contaminated waste water has been treated by their advanced purification system (ALPS). ALPS removes the vast majority of contained radioactive isotopes, other than biologically-innocuous Tritium. The removal factor is greater than 10,000, which means that at most one radioactive isotope in 10,000 makes it through the process. ALPS receives its water from the output of the Cesium-absorption system, which also has an isotopic removal factor of over 10,000. By combining the two systems-in-series, we find that the total removal factor for radioactive isotopes is more than 100 million!
This is a very, very, very efficient water purification process which rivals those used at research facilities around the world. In fact, the water coming out of ALPS, and stored in uncontaminated tanks, is so pure it probably would meet water quality standards anyplace in the world…other than Japan.
58 of the 62 targeted isotopes are removed so effectively that their radioactive “signatures” are no longer detectible. Three of the other four are stripped down to barely detectible levels that are below drinking water standards (even though no-one in their right mind drinks seawater). The other isotope, Strontium-90, currently remains but is at a concentration that is about double Japan’s ridiculously low national standard for release. In fact, the ALPS system, with all of its on-again/off-again warts, is so effective that it meets all Japanese regulatory standards for discharge, except for the Strontium. And, if the water was re-run through the ALPS system (which is being considered), even the Strontium would be gone.
So, why doesn’t Tepco mitigate the on-going build-up of stored waters at F. Daiichi significantly by releasing the huge, highly-purified volume to the sea? Tepco says there is currently nearly 500,000 tons of wastewater in storage. By releasing everything already purified, the total would drop to about 365,000 tons…still a lot, but much less severe. This would be a full 27% reduction. The release would immediately mingle with the massive volume of water in the ocean with the only discernible impact being a reduction of the ocean’s salinity near the point of discharge. These are the facts.
The reason for the hold-up seems based on two related reasons… unfounded fear and rumors. The fear stems from a most significant aspect of the Hiroshima Syndrome; a conviction that there is no absolutely safe level of radiation exposure. This fear of radiation stems from the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki in 1946, and a purely extrapolated assumption known as the Linear/No Threshold Hypothesis (LNT). A significant number of studies from around the world since 1980 clearly demonstrate that LNT is absolutely incorrect with exposures below 100 millisieverts per year*. (see of “Radiation: The No Safe Level Myth”, and the bibliography at the end, listed in the left-hand column).
Attendant to LNT is the notion of radiation damage being accumulated over time, which is yet another false assumption. The “accumulation” concept gives no credit to the body’s natural cellular and DNA repair mechanisms. In fact, highly-confident research shows that these repair processes “up-regulate” as low level exposure increases, which means that their function accelerates and becomes more robust. Yet another assumption is that children are more vulnerable to radiation exposure than adults because their rate of cellular replication is so great. Once again, there is not credit given for natural cell and DNA repair mechanisms.
The extreme negative psychological impact of LNT on the Japanese cannot be overstated. The Press has preached the no-safe-level gospel since 3/11/11. The political regime in Tokyo on 3/11/11, and for nearly 2 years there-after, used LNT to push the nation’s official limits for radiation down to levels that are unrealistic, unwieldy, and downright ridiculous. LNT has been proven to be incorrect and should be eliminated, but huge bureaucracies have built up around it over the decades since WWII. Dismantling bureaucracies is many times more difficult than constructing them. LNT remains politically viable, despite it being wrong.
Thus, the first reason why Tepco and Tokyo aren’t dumping the ultra-safe, purified ALPS effluent to the sea is because of a national LNT-predicated fear of radiation, not mention a socio-political cowardice on the part of both. Tepco and Tokyo fear being castigated by the Press and hammered by Japan’s antinuclear demographic. In addition, antinuclear groups around the world would condemn Tepco, and the international pseudo-scientific prophets of nuclear energy doom would post new predictions of apocalyptic genocide. Tepco has tired of countering this barrage, and so has Tokyo.
Rumors are an off-shoot of this fear. In most cases, the gossip is based on a distrust of Tokyo and Tepco by a numerically-significant fraction of the general public. Irresponsible and incorrect hear-say has had its greatest negative impact on the Fukushima food businesses. The current focus is with Fukushima’s fishing industry. There are certainly those in the fishing business who simply don’t trust Tepco or Tokyo. But, it seems most don’t want the purified waters released because rumors circulated in the marketplace might severely harm their business.
Two points should be made. First, there are already unfounded rumors surrounding the assumption of hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater seeping into the sea every day. (see Fukushima Commentary of September 10 – Fukushima groundwater is not contaminating the Pacific Ocean) There are already rumors in the marketplace damaging fish sales. How could the release of ultra-pure water to the sea make the situation any worse? Second, the avoidance of gossip should never be given greater consideration that reality. Fukushima’s fishermen may fear the possibility of rumors, but delaying the inevitable is not the answer. The waters will eventually be discharged. There is no other option, and any future release will be no safer that what would be the case now.
What would be the best thing Tepco and Tokyo should do? Start dumping the stored waters already run through ALPS as soon as the Fukushima fishermen and the public have been fully informed.
Wait a minute…they have already been informed!
Damn the radiophobic fears and unfounded rumors…JUST DO IT!
*- The 100 millisievert (10 REM) threshold of actual harm was chosen conservatively. Many studies show that levels much greater are also safe depending on the energy level of the radiation and the type of radiation being considered.