Fukushima: How dangerous is the cooling water?

Around ten years after the reactor disaster, Japan plans to drain cooling water from Fukushima into the sea. One million tons of radioactive cooling water would be released. The project should start in two years and last for decades. How dangerous is it for people and the environment?

The operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has stored millions of tons of contaminated water on the site of the nuclear power plant, which was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. Since then, reactors have to be cooled with water to prevent a core meltdown. In 2022, the storage capacities for radioactive cooling water will be fully utilized. The solution should be disposal in the ocean.

Photo by Kellie Churchman on Pexels

Water treatment before disposal

According to Japanese information, the water was subjected to an extensive filtering process to remove most of the radioactive isotopes. The isotope tritium is retained. According to experts, it is only harmful to humans in very high doses. Tritium is a soft beta emitter, thin layers of plastic or the human skin are enough to block most of the radiation. Besides, only a small proportion of the tritium is organically bound in the human body if consumed. Although it is radioactive, its dangerousness cannot be compared with that of other radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 or caesium-137.

Dilution is the solution

Due to the enormous size of the sea, the radioactive water is quickly diluted after it has been discharged, so that tritium can hardly be detected anymore. With a half-life of around twelve years, it also decays very quickly. It is probably the best solution to the problem.

However, many residents and environmentalists, fishermen, and neighboring countries see it differently. They accuse the government of choosing the cheapest and fastest solution to the problem. The future will tell whether the project will go according to plan.

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