A panel of scientific experts engaged by the Pacific Islands Forum believes Japan should not dump the radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean as data and research isn’t conclusive that it is safe to do so.

In their latest report, the panel said the quantity and quality of the data are inadequate to support a decision to release tank waters and while tritium is of concern, so are other radioactive elements that are not so easy to clean up. They also said accumulation on the seafloor and marine food products will need to be considered while pointing out that there are alternatives so there should be no urgency to release the Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific. 

The panel is made up of Ken Buesseler (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress (MIIS/CNS), Arjun Makhijani (IEER), Robert Richmond (University of Hawaii) and Anthony Hooker (University of Adelaide).

Since the 2011 tsunami which severely damaged the plant, more than a million tonnes of treated wastewater has accumulated and is being stored in tanks. Japan now wants to start discharging the stored wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. The UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published a report endorsing Japan’s plan.

However, the PIF expert panel say for a start, they don’t know what is in the water.

“What is in the water? We don’t really know and that is the problem. TEPCO shared 4.3 years of data with the PIF we analysed,” the panel said. “Serious problems with the data both in form and in quality. 

“Incomplete, inadequate, inconsistent sample extraction? 3. Only a quarter of tanks were measured over 4 years. There is no mention of mixing and hardly any measurements of sludge. Relevant data missing from data in some cases as fundamental as tank ID. Tanks often not re-measured to determine how representative the data is.”

Since the disaster, power plant company Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been pumping in water to cool down the Fukushima nuclear reactors’ fuel rods. This means every day the plant produces contaminated water, which is stored in massive tanks.

More than 1,000 tanks have been filled, and Japan says this is not a sustainable long-term solution. It wants to gradually release this water into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years, insisting that it is safe to be discharged.

The PIF panel has noted that TEPCO’s response has been unsatisfactory and the company has not rebutted the concerns raised, including about biased and unrepresentative sampling and poor data quality control.

“We are concerned that the IAEA, being aware of the issues, has not insisted on scientifically sound knowledge of tank contents before treatment, data quality control, or the ability of ALPS to handle the load, including from tanks with sludges,” said the scientific experts.

“IAEA has indicated that if the ALPS system cannot handle the load in one pass that it multiple passes would be done, no matter how many; and has suggested that sampling just before discharge will be sufficient protection for the public and the environment.”

There have also been concerns raised by experts on what could become of marine life even with the amount of active radioactive particles that would be gradually released over 30 years. The expert panel is of the view that waiting until just before discharge to address critical issues is not a sound procedure either from a scientific or ecological point of view. Pacific Island nations including Samoa believe that this release of the wastewater should not happen.

This story was written by Shalveen Chand, originally published at Samoa Observer on 25 July 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.

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