Saying that continued storage of radioactive water is not a realistic strategy, International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Yukiya Amano suggested that some of the contaminated water be released into the Pacific Ocean after treatment.
“This is not a long-term solution. In order to avoid the potential difficulties, we recommend Japan to consider the option to release the water after treating it properly, ensuring that it satisfies the Japanese standard after consulting with the stakeholders like the local community,” said Amano.
Japan has struggled to contain the radioactive water from the reactors damaged in the earthquake and tsunami that hit the facility three years ago this month. Authorities say that hundreds of the tanks used to store the contaminated water have started to leak. During the March 2011 disaster, three of the reactors at the site melted down.
Telling reporters gathered at a news conference in Tokyo, Amano said that the current strategy of holding the radioactive water in the evergrowing battery of storage tanks is “not viable.” He told reporters, “Common practice is to treat contaminated water as much as possible…and then release it into the environment.”
There are over 1,000 storage tanks across the site, holding over 340,000 tons of water. Amano says that Tepco, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, should instead be focussed on the pools that sit atop the building, that if damaged by another earthquake, could pose a much more hazardous risk to the immediate environment.
Local fishermen are opposed to the idea. The fishermen in the area have already taken a major economic hit with the contamination of local fish stock and the severely damaged reputation that it caused.
In late February, the American Geophysical Union met for their annual Ocean Sciences meeting in Honolullu. It was pointed out by scientists at that meetng that ocean water containing dissolved radionuclides had reached the northern West Coast of North America from the Fukushima disaster.
The increased presence of the short-lived Cs-134 has non-scientists concerned. But the scientific community states that the levels of Cs-134 are much lower than the leftover levels of Cs-137 that the ocean contains from the above-ground nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s. Cs-134 has a half-life of just 2.1 years. This is much lower than the 30 year half-life of Cs-137. In layman’s terms, that means that the dissolved Cs-134 radionuclides found in the waters of the west coast of North America will disappear completely in 21 years, as opposed to the 300 years for the longer-lived Cs-137.
The amount of Cs-134 measured in the seawater is approximately 1 Becquerel per cubic yard of water. In contrast, the EPA states that the standard for drinking water is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic yard of water. Scientists state that the average American ingests approximately 10,000 Becquerels of Cs-137 each and every day from the foods they eat.
The scientific community states that even if the entire Fukushima facility and its waste water were to slip inot the ocean, it would not raise the levels of radioactivity above the trace amounts already found in our oceans.