US expert says Japan can't release contaminated water until nuclides at "non-detectable levels"

South Korean environmental activists wearing protective clothing and a mask (right) of Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hold pictures of fishes with radioactivity warning signs during a protest against Japan's decision on releasing Fukushima wastewater, near the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 13, 2021. - AFP

WASHINGTON (Xinhua): "Not one drop" of Japan's Fukushima radioactively contaminated water should be released until the world is convinced that the water has been treated to remove nuclides to "non-detectable levels", a prominent US marine conservation biologist told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday (April 21).

The Japanese government announced last week it had decided to discharge contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima Prefecture into the sea.

"Prior to any marine discharge, the world deserves to know exactly what radioisotopes are in the wastewater, in what concentrations, and that all of the water has been treated with best available technology methods to remove all radionuclides to non-detectable levels," said Rick Steiner, former professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska.

As of Dec 31,2019,73 per cent of the nuclear wastewater exceeded Japan's discharge standards after treatment by an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) capable of removing most contaminants, according to a report from an organisation researching the treatment of wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator handling wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear accident, has a record of covering up and falsifying information, according to media reports.

"TEPCO and the government of Japan have been somewhat non-transparent with the Fukushima issue," Steiner told Xinhua.

He said Japan's planned release is a "spectacularly bad idea" for a number of reasons -- it would expose marine ecosystems across the North Pacific to risk; it is unnecessary, as the long-term storage option is reasonable and prudent; it is likely illegal under international law; and it is exceptionally unethical.

"We can no longer accept dumping hazardous industrial wastes into our one global ocean," said Steiner, who consults for the United Nations, governments and NGOs on marine environmental issues.

"As far as ecological risk, so far we simply don't know exactly what radionuclides and in what concentrations are in the tanks, but we know there is radioactive cesium-137, tritium, Carbon-14, Cobalt-60, Strontium-90, Iodine-129, and over 50 other nuclides. Some of this may have been removed, some not," Steiner noted.

"We need to know," he stressed.

The international community should convene an international scientific and technological commission, agreed by the Japanese government, to provide independent scientific oversight of all aspects of the Fukushima cleanup, including the wastewater issue, Steiner said.

This international group should operate independently of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he added.

According to Steiner, if the contaminated water is held for another 15 to 30 years, the radioactive tritium will decay by 50 percent to 75 percent. This will give time to treat the contaminated water effectively.

Japan's decision to dump wastewater into sea has triggered opposition from the Japanese public and global environmental groups. It has also raised concerns from neighboring countries about a possible impact on human health and fishery businesses.

"The ecological impact of this sort of chronic release of radioactive waste into the North Pacific may be considerable," Steiner said.

Some of the contaminants will enter living organisms, and some of these can cause reproductive impairment, cellular damage, genetic injury, and cancers, he explained.

"The risk is entirely avoidable by using long-term storage on shore, and best available technology treatment systems," Steiner noted.

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China , Japan , Fukushima , water , US , experts


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