As Japan prepares to release treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, scientists are encouraging international collaboration to improve trust in the process.
Following the nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japanese authorities used 1.3 million tonnes of water to cool the plant’s damaged reactors. The water is stored in tanks around the plant.
In 2021, with space running low, the Japanese government announced plans to release the water into the Pacific Ocean.
Prior to release, the water will be treated with an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which will remove dangerous radioactive particles.
This process has been double-checked independently by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the first release of water is expected within a few months.
Dr David Krofcheck, a physicist at the university of Auckland, New Zealand, says that he is “very comfortable” with the water being released, as long as scientists can guarantee that the radioactive particles have been released.
“There’s a lot of trust that has been lost from early on that the Japanese scientists are actually doing this correctly,” says Krofcheck.
“It would be nice if there was some kind of international collaboration, for people in the neighbourhood like Korea, Taiwan, China perhaps.
“This would be a giant collaboration, like the kind of thing I work in at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. We get together and we can check and verify each other’s results. I think that would smooth some of the hard feelings.”
Associate Professor Tony Hooker, a physicist at the University of Adelaide, agrees that it’s important that scientists can ensure the water has been treated properly.
Hooker and Krofcheck were both speaking at a briefing run today by the New Zealand Science Media Centre.
“The last report from the International Atomic Energy Agency has done an inter laboratory comparison of testing that water. They concur with the Japanese in what levels are in that water,” says Hooker.
“I totally agree with David we need to make sure that it’s only tritium and carbon-14 that’s released. And I think there’s some systems in place for that for that to happen.”
But Professor Bob Richmond, a marine biologist at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, US, told the Australian Science Media Centre that the release is “premature, and presently, ill-advised”.
“The peoples of the Pacific did not contribute to the present problems, and have nothing to gain from Japan’s plan for the contaminated water release over the next 30+ years, but have much at risk for generations to come, in violation of the precautionary principle as well as transboundary safety considerations,” says Richmond.
Richmond highlights other places for the treated water to go, like concrete.
Krofcheck believes that release into the ocean is the “least bad option”.
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“I certainly hope Japan makes the decision to invite their neighbours to come and observe and take samples of their own. They can take them back to their own countries, measure and verify that what the Japanese scientists have said is actually correct. I’d like to see other countries involved,” says Krofcheck.
“From my understanding, there is an independent third party laboratory within Japan already contracted to [under]take independent testing,” says Hooker.
“But I think being open and transparent, and opening up samples of water to as many laboratories as possible would just give the community much more confidence.”
The Ultramarine project – focussing on research and innovation in our marine environments – is supported by Minderoo Foundation's Flourishing Oceans initiative.