Japan has been a hot topic recently due to its plans to dispose of treated nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean. Not only have several countries criticized this action, but the Japanese public has also held demonstrations at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
The UGM Center for Environmental Studies, in its podcast series called PoLes (Podcast Lestari), invited Dr. Haryono Budi Santoso, a lecturer in the UGM Department of Nuclear Engineering and Physics, to discuss this issue on Friday (September 8).
“The total amount of water is enormous, reportedly equivalent to 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The water will be gradually released. Concerns have arisen that this water will eventually pollute the ocean, especially in the Pacific Ocean,” said Dr. Santoso.
“For example, the Chinese government officially responded by rejecting this action. They have banned the consumption of Japanese seafood products. China and Hong Kong are, in fact, the largest markets for Japanese seafood products, consuming 42% of Japan’s total seafood products.”
In response, the Japanese government has claimed that the water is safe and has received approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“If we look at the data, it’s indeed safe. For instance, the values are far below the limits set by the WHO, much smaller. Perhaps due to concerns about environmental pollution, many have voiced their opposition to this event,” added Dr. Santoso.
He explained that initially, the government was trying to deal with the tsunami and earthquake disaster that led to the nuclear reactor accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The emergency required a cooling process that needed an electricity source.
However, due to the tsunami, all electricity supply was cut off. Therefore, the Japanese government attempted to cool the nuclear reactor using the remaining seawater.
“The water couldn’t be directly discharged into the sea because it was radioactive. Therefore, this water was collected continuously until the reactor cooled down. There were many storage tanks, around 1,000 or more, each with a volume of 1,000 cubic meters,” Dr. Santoso said.
“After successfully addressing the issue, the accumulated radioactive water remained. Eventually, following the radioactive decay principle over time, the radioactivity level of the accumulated water also decreased.”
Reducing the radioactive content in the water would take a long time. The land used for storing this water needed to be reused, so the Japanese government applied the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to treat the water and attempt to release it into the ocean.
“This process successfully cleaned about 62 types of radioactive substances. After that, the water was still stored. The problem emerged here. The existing system has not been able to remove tritium (H3). While other radioactive contaminants can be treated, tritium is different,” Dr. Santoso explained.
“Tritium behaves like water; it depends on water. However, tritium is radioactive. Therefore, the tritium concentration in the environment must be strictly controlled because it can lead to radiation sickness.”
Dr. Santoso stated that the WHO-set limit for tritium content in liquids is 10,000 Bq/liter. Based on this regulation, Japan has imposed an operational limit much lower, at 1,500 Bq/liter.
The IAEA has closely monitored the decay process of radioactive content for many years. Even while releasing the treated water into the ocean, the tritium content was not significantly exceeding 3 meters from the shoreline.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the release of treated cooling water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant does not disrupt the marine ecosystem and the environment.