In the latest sign that the area surrounding the destroyed Fukushima power plant is far from ready for the return of human inhabitants, locals and fishing groups are criticizing a plan to release water containing radioactive tritium from the ruined Fukushima power plant into the ocean, according to the Telegraph. Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, say tritium poses little risk to human health and is quickly diluted by the ocean. But for some, the plan undoubtedly dredges up uncomfortable memories from 2013, when it was revealed that 300 tonnes of radioactive material had been leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the devastated plant every day. It was also revealed that TEPCO had known about the leaks, but had tried to cover them up.
TEPCO has been tasked with decommissioning the plant, and has been using robots to find and clean the melted nuclear fuel debris that is believed to be creating exorbitant levels of radiation in the area surrounding the plant. Though the company had to pull some of its robots out in February after radiation reached such high levels that not even machinery could function correctly, according to the International Business Times.
In March 2011, a magnitude 9 undersea megaquake triggered a massive tsunami that battered coastal North Eastern Japan, and triggered the level seven meltdowns of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and the evacuation of 160,000 residents and the implementation of a 310 square mile uninhabitable zone. The quake was the worst to ever hit Japan, and it caused the worst nuclear disaster the world had seen since Ukraine’s Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. The three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant melted down when the tsunami caused a blackout at the plant that shut off its cooling systems.
Six years after the disaster, some residents are beginning to return as the Japanese government prepares to lift restrictions on four towns in the affected area. But a completed cleanup effort could take decades, and the government must still find a way to exterminate the radioactive boars that have overrun the area.
Takashi Kawamura, chairman of TEPCO, told local media "The decision has already been made” regarding the tritium infused water. He added, however, that the utility is waiting for approval from the Japanese government before going ahead with the plan and is seeking the understanding of local residents.
The tritium is building up in water that has been used to cool three reactors that suffered fuel melt-downs after cooling equipment was destroyed during the earthquake and tsunami. Around 770,000 tons of highly radioactive water is being stored in 580 tanks at the site. Many of the contaminants can be filtered out, but the technology does not presently exist to remove tritium from water.
Environmental activist say dumping the tritium-infused water is part of a pattern of negligence on the part of TEPCO stretching back to before the earthquake even happened, when the company failed to take proper precautions to reinforce the cooling systems at the plants’ reactors.
"This accident happened more than six years ago and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it into the ocean", said Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan.
"They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas", she told The Telegraph.
Fishermen who operate in waters off the plant say the release of any radioactive material will devastate their industry, which is still struggling to recover from the initial nuclear disaster, according to the Telegraph.
"Releasing [tritium] into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumours, making all our efforts for naught", Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishing cooperative, told Kyodo News.