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Gov't, TEPCO plan to dump treated water in sea angers Fukushima fishermen

In this July 17, 2018 file photo, tanks containing water contaminated with radioactive materials are seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO/IWAKI, Fukushima -- In response to a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plan to release water containing radioactive tritium even after being treated from the tsunami-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean, Fukushima's fishing industry is biting back.

A panel of experts from the economy ministry is holding the first public meetings in Tokyo and Fukushima Prefecture on Aug. 30 and 31 concerning the future of the growing number of tanks of treated water around the power plant in the northeastern Japanese prefecture.

The ministry and TEPCO have expressed intentions to make a final decision sometime this year on whether to dump the treated water into the sea, saying that they are approaching the limit of the amount of water that the facilities can accommodate. However, fishermen and others involved in the marine product industry in Fukushima Prefecture, who have conducted numerous safety tests of their products, say that such a move would only undermine the trust they have been trying to build concerning safety, building up a sense of crisis.

"Scientists can simply say, 'It's fine to dump (the water) into the ocean,' but will the citizens of Japan still buy fish from Fukushima (afterward) like they do now?" So asked 63-year-old Toru Takahashi, a fisherman from Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, who rebuilt his boat damaged in the 2011 tsunami and has participated in the testing of the fish off of Fukushima's shores. Takahashi believes that the Nuclear Regulation Authority's approval of the plan to dump the water containing tritium -- which cannot be filtered using current technology -- in the Pacific Ocean put forth by the economy ministry as the fastest and most low-cost method of disposal, lacks the perspective of fishermen and those in the marine product industry.

After high concentrations of radioactive materials were washed into the ocean in the nuclear disaster at the power plant in 2011, fishing along the coast of Fukushima was halted completely. From the following year, the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries and Co-operative Associations began trial operations and other activities to test the safety of marine products, expanding the range of fishing areas and species. Since April 2015, there have been no cases of fish exceeding the government standard of 100 becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram. The catch has been only a little more than 10 percent that of before the accident, fishing of core species has begun again, and radiation below the minimum detection limit is found in over 99 percent of the products tested this year.

It is precisely for this reason that the notion of releasing the treated water into the ocean off Fukushima's coast is causing concerns in the fishing industry.

"We don't intend to protest on scientific grounds, but the problem is that the measure hasn't gained the understanding of the citizens of Japan. It will be a huge blow to the Fukushima fishing industry," said Fukushima prefectural fisheries federation chairman Tetsu Nozaki, who plans to make his opposition to the plan known at the forum in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 30.

The contaminated water in question is that which has been used to cool the melted nuclear fuel rods in the reactor and the ground water around the plant, and each day, roughly 220 tons of such water is amassed, and is expected to amount to 55,000 tons per year in the future. Currently, there are 880 containment tanks on the grounds of the nuclear plant. Even after treating the water, tritium cannot be removed.

According to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, if an individual was to drink 2 liters of water containing the maximum standard amount of tritium every day, then they would be exposed to an additional roughly 1 millisievert of radiation annually, which is equal to the actual radiation exposure limit put forth by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

After collecting the opinions of the participants in the public hearings, the government plans to make a final decision about processing the water in cooperation with TEPCO before the end of the year.

(Japanese original by Tatsushi Inui, Iwaki Local Bureau, and Riki Iwama, Science & Environment News Department)

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