Contaminated Water Issue at Fukushima

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    JJaappaann AAttoommiicc IInndduussttrriiaall FFoorruumm,, IInncc.. Leakage of radiation-contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS) of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) has been a major concern within and outside Japan. Deciding it must take the lead on resolving the issues, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Abe announced comprehensive measures on September 3, including budgetary measures. Contaminated water has been a problem since immediately after the accident. At the beginning, however, there were so many events requiring urgent responses, including cooling the reactor cores, that TEPCO was extremely pressed to deal with them. It is undeniable that thorough contaminated-water measures have been a step behind. Moreover, partly due to improper information disclosure until now, present conditions leakage of contaminated water into the sea, the unsoundness of temporary storage tanks, insufficient ability to monitor leakage, slow progress in treating contaminated water, and more are being sensationalized in reporting not only in neighboring countries but in the U.S. and Europe as well. The story is developing as if this were the most critical situation since the original accident. Of course, the history of radioactive leakage from underground piping and the like at nuclear facilities goes beyond the Fukushima Daiichi NPS. Dealing with contaminated groundwater has been a major issue, for example, in the decommissioning of the Hanford Works in the United States, where nuclear development was carried out during the Cold War, as well as in normal operations of nuclear power plants. Various cases appear on the website of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In other words, other countries, too, have experience with these problems and possess knowledge and know-how on dealing with them. Japan will have to draw on those experiences in the process toward decommissioning the reactors at Fukushima, through the cooperation of overseas experts and organizations, not limited to contaminated water issues. When the leakage of contaminated water was first reported by TEPCO, the Nuclear

  • Regulation Authority (NRA) announced the incident as Level 1 Anomaly on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). This was raised to Level 3 Serious Incident on August 28. There was a similar change in the rating of the March 2011 accident itself eventually raised to 7, the same level as Chernobyl. Such changes to the characterization of seriousness also provoke suspicion and increase distrust, not only among the public but in other countries. Director General Agneta Rising of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said the purpose of INES prompt communication of safety-significant information seems to have been forgotten. She said there had been a crisis in communications surrounding the change. I believe, inasmuch as INES ratings are a basic component of domestic and global nuclear communication, that it is extremely important to announce them with the greatest possible care. On September 2, in a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka referred to the possibility of removing radioactive materials from contaminated water and then, where the radioactive concentration was below a certain level, releasing that water into the sea. That would be a quite practical response to the problem. Indeed, something like it will be indispensable to carrying out the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi NPPs. It will be essential, however, to obtain understanding domestically and internationally on releasing the water to the sea. I would like to call on the NRA to make an appropriate judgment on this and present its explanation based on scientific grounds. The nuclear operator and the Japanese government alike must act with responsibility in all respects. They are expected to thoroughly disclose information regarding release of water into the sea, explain to local fishermen and the national people that only after its safety is sufficiently ensured will the water be released, and do the same for people overseas who take the current situation very seriously. This is a basic responsibility, and every effort must be made to obtain understanding.

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