The Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the company that operates the Fukushima nuclear plant, is planning on dumping radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean. Really. That’s something that people are planning on doing. It’s safe to say that local residents, fishermen, and environmental groups are more than a little pissed off.
The waste comes in the form of water that has been used to keep the three reactors cool after they melted down in 2011’s devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Nearly 770,000 tons of water tainted with something called tritium has been sitting around for years because, well, it’s nuclear waste, and nuclear waste is difficult to get rid of. Tritium is a byproduct of the nuclear process that’s nearly impossible to filter out.
Tritium, in small doses, isn’t horrible. Sure, it’s not great, but it’s no uranium. Nuclear power plants routinely dump water contaminated with tritium into the ocean–which is a little scary to learn–and according to Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, the tritium in Fukushima’s tanks was “so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping.”
Local fishermen, though, aren’t having any of it. Since many countries (33, as of March 2017) banned the import of fish from the area, they think their industry has suffered enough. “Releasing [tritium] into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumors, making all our efforts for naught,” Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishing cooperative, told Kyodo News.
The 770,000 tons of radioactive water is stored in 580 tanks near Fukushima Daiichi, the power plant that was hit hardest by the tsunami. Fishermen aren’t the only ones who are angry, either. “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, to Newsweek. “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”
Takashi Kawamura, the chairman of TEPCO, plans on going ahead despite the opposition. “The decision has already been made,” he said. They are, however planning on waiting for official approval from the Japanese government.