Haruto Kitagawa ’22
Recently, Japan has decided to release more than one million tons of “treated” wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. Various media sources misrepresented this incident by emphasizing the harmful statistics of sewage. Still, most of this data focuses on “untreated” wastewater, and the wastewater the Japanese government has decided to release is treated.
The decision was made due to the impending shortage of storage tanks for the contaminated water. All the tanks are expected to be filled by 2022, and no more space is available for the new tanks. The contaminated water is going through complex filtration processes, in which most of the radioactive elements are removed, leaving only a few remaining.
The primary concern regarding the treated wastewater is the potential for active tritium, a type of hydrogen that exists as part of water and is difficult to separate. The radiation that tritium emits is very low in energy and only travels 5 millimeters, so there is low external impact of tritium on a human body. If the concentration of tritium is low enough when taken inside the human body, it is essentially harmless. The Japanese government has stated its policy of further diluting the treated water to 1/40 of the country’s standard concentration of tritium in water and 1/7 of the World Health Organization’s standard concentration of tritium in the potable water.
Despite the backlash, Japan’s decision to release treated wastewater that contains a minute amount of tritium and other radioactive elements to the sea is not a unique occurrence – other countries have released treated wastewater in the past, with some releasing much larger quantities of tritium (with the addition of other chemical substances). Moreover, this plan was proposed more than a year ago, and no significant reaction came back at that time. However, this old proposal is unnaturally getting the attention of a few countries for their own political gain. The political use of a very typical practice combined with the media’s propensity to hype unfavorable impressions caused this alarmed reaction among the public.