Why is Japan dumping radioactive water into the ocean?
Japanese officials allowed owners of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant to empty tanks holding 10,000 tons of slightly radioactive water into the ocean – in order to make room to pump highly contaminated water out of reactor No. 2.
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“The fact that they’re encountering ... these large sources of contaminated water – and still are unable to say exactly where it’s coming from – is troubling,” said Edward Lyman, a senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a briefing for reporters late last week.Skip to next paragraph
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Treating radioactive water – if contained – is easy enough, noted Dr. Lyman. Reprocessing plants could boil off pure water, concentrating the radioactivity into a denser waste solution. Filters can also remove some contaminants.
“Over time ... assuming the situation is stabilized and they were able to get at least the physical capacity to store the liquids, then they would just be left with potentially a high-level radioactive waste problem, like the US has in spades with liquid waste left over from defense production,” said Lyman.
Tracing the leak
While pumping water out of the damaged reactor could help solve solve the problem, workers continue to try to identify the source of the leak. They have tried dumping a milky dye into the suspect pool to see if they can trace the water’s path. So far, that has not shown up in nearby ocean waters.
TEPCO now is weighing other strategies as it considers that the leak might be elsewhere.
One possible move: setting up undersea silt barriers near the reactor's seawater intake duct, in an attempt to block radioactive water from moving further into the ocean.
Response of the Japanese government
The Japanese government said it is becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of radioactivity that has already leached into surrounding waters.
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the disposal of the low-level waste is an emergency measure and that it will increase monitoring of water and sea life in the surrounding area to ensure levels of radioactive iodine do not spike too high.
“Even if they say the contamination will be diluted in the ocean, the longer this continues, the more radioactive particles will be released and the greater the impact on the ocean,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano at a press conference. “We are strongly urging TEPCO that they have to take immediate action to deal with this.”