On Friday, the Japanese government changed some terms of the much-disputed operation to release more than one million tons of water currently contained in the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. More than ten years after the accident in which the nuclear power plant was seriously damaged by a tsunami, in fact, there are still about a thousand tanks full of treated water in the structure, but still partly contaminated with radioactive materials.
The water tanks prevent the dismantling of the structure and are a risk in the event of an earthquake or another tsunami: which is why the Japanese government urgently needs to get rid of them.
The government initially said it would pour the water into the ocean this spring, but on Friday it said it would be “spring or summer this year.” He has also revised some terms of the operation to guarantee greater safety and economic support to local fishermen, in an attempt to gather the consent of the population, which has so far opposed out of fear that some substances present in the waters could seriously damage the marine ecosystem, the fishing and agriculture.
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Currently, the plan calls for the company that manages the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, to treat the water to clean it of radioactive substances and to get it from the plant to the coast through a pipeline. On the coast, the waters will be diluted with seawater and then passed through an underwater tunnel to an outlet in the open sea. But they won’t all be dispersed at the same time: the whole process will take about forty years. The tunnel is currently under construction.
The water in the plant’s tanks is ocean water which was used after the accident to cool the damaged and highly radioactive reactors and then treated. Partially molten nuclear fuel still needs to be cooled, and new water is periodically used to do this, which is then added to the tanks, which start to get bigger and bigger. Most of the radioactive substances are removed by the water that is placed in the tanks, which however continues to contain tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that cannot be removed, and small quantities of other materials.
If further treated, diluted with seawater and gradually released into the ocean, the water from the plant will have no harmful effects on the environment, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings. However, many experts argue that the effects of such an operation cannot be foreseen and that it is preferable to wait beyond the summer to acquire more information. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN organization charged with monitoring the nuclear energy sector, has been to Fukushima several times in recent years and will return in January to write a report and express its opinion before the water disposal operation begins.
In addition to the local population and the fishing industry, China, South Korea and the Pacific Islands Forum (which includes Australia and New Zealand among others) have also expressed serious concerns and disagreements with the Japanese government’s decision.
– Read also: Japan’s nuclear sector fails to restart after Fukushima
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