About that tritiated water: Who will decide and when?

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Storage tanks of contaminated water stand at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Tepco estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020, and a decision must be made on what to do with the water well before then.
 
June 5, 2018
Virtually every news story about the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant acknowledges the tremendous ongoing problem of contaminated water that is accumulating in approximately 850 large tanks on-site. There are about 850,000 tons of water in the tanks at present, from which all radionuclides of concern except tritium — radioactive hydrogen — have been effectively removed. More water accumulates each day, in quantities roughly equal to the amount of groundwater that seeps into the damaged reactor buildings. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020. Something needs to be done well before then, and the decision should address the concerns of all stakeholders, public and private.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. Unless they think seriously about how to prevent this from becoming yet another clumsy exercise in DAD — “decide, announce, defend” — these meetings will be a mere fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.
As it is, the government’s decision-making process itself appears to be dysfunctional, and we have reason to be skeptical that it will be possible to avert very bad domestic and international public reactions if and when this water is disposed of.
The Subcommittee on Handling Water Treated by the Polynuclide Removal Facility is one of several Japanese government committees organized by METI tasked with formulating a response to the problem of the radioactive water. The planned public sessions were announced at its eighth meeting, on May 18.
This is a step in the right direction, and is long overdue. Nevertheless it may well be a case of “too little, too late.” The decision, delayed for years, will almost certainly be to dilute the water and release it to the ocean, and meanwhile, public opposition to this idea has hardened. The issue hinges on both scientific understanding and public perception.
What is tritium?
Tritium, scientifically indicated as “H3,” occurs both naturally and through man-made processes. Tritiated water (HTO), like that accumulating at the No. 1 nuclear power plant, behaves almost identically to normal water, and can be taken up easily by living organisms. The scientific consensus is that the health risks from exposure to tritium are several orders of magnitude lower than those from radionuclides like cesium, radioactive iodine or strontium. This is reflected in allowable limits in drinking water, which are generally tens or hundreds of times higher for tritium than for these others, ranging from 100 Bq/L in the European Union to 76,103 Bq/L in Australia. Nevertheless, the scientific community acknowledges some uncertainty about these risks.
Leaving the tritiated water in the tanks at No. 1 is the riskiest thing to do, due to the possibility of ruptures or uncontrolled leaks. As far back as 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended a controlled release to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency concurred.
A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, and in 2016 concluded that for reasons of cost, available technology, time required, and safety, diluting and discharging it to the ocean was the least objectionable approach. The task force presented relevant monitoring data from decades of similar releases of tritium to the ocean from nuclear facilities in Japan and abroad, noting that the quantities from the No. 1 plant would be many times smaller and the tritium levels in ocean life too low to be of real concern.
Tepco has made it clear that ocean release is its preference as well. The company says that it strives to meet government recommendations, and does not intend to act without government support, but is ultimately responsible for any actual decision.
In July 2017 Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made, and the public outcry was immediate, particularly from Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted. The company quickly backpedaled.
Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that an ocean release would require is expected to require almost a year after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. That no decision has been officially announced to date can be ascribed to the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash, and, I believe, the reluctance of any responsible government officials to be associated with such an unpopular decision.
Fishermen’s opposition
The strongest and most meaningful opposition comes from Fukushima’s fisheries cooperatives, which have suffered tremendously due to the 2011 disaster. Representatives of Tepco, METI and other government bodies that share the mandate for dealing with the contaminated water invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understanding and agreement with all stakeholders, the fisheries cooperatives in particular.
Takahiro Kimoto, a general manager in Tepco’s nuclear power division, explained, “The policies can’t and shouldn’t be determined by Tepco alone, but we continue discussing the available options with government and other stakeholders. These discussions are taking a long time, but we consider them essential.” Put bluntly, Tepco knows they will be pilloried no matter what, and seeks broad support.
Shuji Okuda, METI’s director for decommissioning and contaminated water management, stressed that no decision has yet been made regarding which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water will be chosen. “It will be a decision of the Japanese government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one made by any single agency. And it will be based on ample discussions with all stakeholders.”
Although Tepco and METI indicate that they are prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s conditions regarding the release, the cooperatives are adamant. “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. We think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk,” he continued, “and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.”
Much hinges on public understanding of the risks, and therefore on transparency. Robust and effective two-way communication is essential, not to persuade the public that official plans are acceptable, but to better equip them to participate in the debate in an informed way, and to push back where they feel it is necessary. It is the public’s right to demand this kind of inclusion.
Communication should be aimed not only at fishermen and Japanese consumers, but internationally to all who are concerned about what the effect on the Pacific will be. The government has been sitting on the Task Force recommendations for almost two years without taking action. That it has taken this long to even begin planning to engage the public on this issue is, again, because no one in a governmental decision-making position wants to be politically associated with the consequences of a tritium release.
According to METI, the content, location and timing of the public sessions will be discussed at the next subcommitee meeting in July. People unable to attend in person will be able to submit comments and questions via email. Though hastily planned events could possibly be held before the end of this year, it seems likely they will need to happen in 2019, bumping up against the decision deadline.
While some fishermen are likely to attend, the cooperatives themselves will likely refuse. This situation requires the actual involvement of citizens in the decision making process, but it is difficult to find instances of that actually happening in Fukushima since the accident in 2011. At the central government level in particular, it has almost always been DAD.
Regardless of whether one trusts scientific opinion or Tepco, the tritiated water cannot be left in the tanks at No. 1 indefinitely, and releasing it to the ocean, though not without risk, is the least objectionable of the available options. As it stands now, given the depth of public mistrust and the nature of misinformation in our current era, the situation is ripe for the maximum misunderstanding and negative social impact to occur if and when this tritiated water is finally released.
Unfortunately, I think we should be prepared for things to be done the “Kasumigaseki way”: for the decision to be avoided until the last possible moment, and for government officials to claim then that an unavoidable emergency had arisen and it couldn’t be helped.
There will be negative social impact no matter what, but unless responsible government officials step up soon, own the decision and ensure that public engagement is genuine, broad, and effective, these negative impacts will be unnecessarily magnified.
Azby Brown is the lead researcher for Safecast, a volunteer-based NPO that conducts open, independent, citizen-run monitoring of radiation and other environmental hazards worldwide. http://www.safecast.org
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Japan’s government weighs dumping radioactive Fukushima water into the Pacific

As the cleanup of a triple meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima nuclear power plant drags into its seventh year, one of the biggest continuing threats is less from airborne radioactivity than it is simple water.
 
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A waterlogged radiation and tsunami warning sign found on Fukushima beaches in 2013.
May 22, 2018
As the cleanup of a triple meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima nuclear power plant drags into its seventh year, one of the biggest continuing threats is less from airborne radioactivity than it is simple water.
On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima plant was devastated by a tsunami, which over the ensuing days sent three of its six reactors into meltdown, while hydrogen explosions cast radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products into the air. More than 160,000 people were forced to evacuated in the wake of the disaster, which has now become synonymous with Chernobyl.
At the time, officials began pumping millions of liters of water into the destroyed reactors to keep them cool, often dumping it from helicopters and spraying it through water cannons. In the years since, the water inundation has become less dramatic, but in the absence of any other way to keep the molten fuel cool, the flow of water continues to flow through the remains of the reactors at the rate of some 160 tons of water a day.
While much of that water undergoes purification to remove significant amounts of radiation, filters can’t cleanse the water of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen — a process likened by some scientists to separating water from water.
As a result, water contaminated with tritium is building up and space to store it at the disaster site is running out. Of the 1.13 million-ton water storage capacity that the plant has, some 1.7 million tons have been used up.
Cleanup workers have to build a new steel water tank at the rate of one every four days to contain it all, and space to build more is becoming scarce. According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the tanks already sprawl over an area that could accommodate 32 football fields. All of the storage, says the government, will run out by 2021.
This looming crisis has left the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns Fukushima,  pondering how to get rid of this water – a decision that is generating anxiety and scare headlines as an expert committee weighs whether or not to release the water into the Pacific Ocean.
Despite the national and worldwide case of nerves such a decision might provoke the Japanese government says it can do it without a threat to the country’s fishing industry. Tritium, after all, is a substance that naturally occurs in rivers and seabeds – even tap water. What’s problematic with the tritium at Fukushima, though, is that its levels in the Fukushima water are 10 times higher than Japanese national standards for dumping it.
Because of that, the government’s expert panel is considering several methods for the water’s disposal, including evaporating it, releasing it into the sea after electrolysis, burying it underground or injecting it deep into the geology.
But as cleanup costs continue to spiral, with some Japanese think tanks speculating the final bill could be as much as $470 billion to $660 billion,  releasing the water into the sea – after diluting it – may turn out to be the cheapest option.
It’s not the first battle against water that the cleanup effort has fought. As recently as two years ago, some 400 tons of ground water flowed into the facility daily. Tokyo Electric Power somewhat stemmed that by building an underground wall of frozen soil to staunch the seepage of radioactive water.
has managed to decrease the inflow by installing a 30-yard-long “ice wall” fence that freezing cold brine is pumped through to freeze the soil around it, reports Wired. The chilled soil is meant to create a barrier to keep additional groundwater from spilling into the radioactive area.
But this year, on the seventh anniversary of the disaster, an expert group commissioned by the Japanese government concluded that the subterranean wall is not entirely effective against the deluge, and that other methods of battling leakage have to be devised.

Japan still at a loss in how to deal with Fukushima’s radioactive water

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20 May, 2018
The number of storage tanks for contaminated water and other materials has continuously increased at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Japan, and space for still more tanks is approaching the limit.
It is seven years since an eathquake and tsunami overwhelmed Fukushima and a way to get rid of treated water, or tritium water, has not been decided yet.
The Government and Tokyo Electric Power Company will have to make a tough decision on disposal of tritium water down the road.
At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, groundwater and other water enters the reactor buildings that suffered meltdowns, where the water becomes contaminated.
This produces about 160 tons of contaminated water per day. Purification devices remove many of the radioactive materials, but tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – cannot be removed for technical reasons. Thus, treated water that includes only tritium continues to increase.
Currently, the storage tanks have a capacity of about 1.13 million tons. About 1.07 million tons of that capacity is now in use, of which about 80 per cent is for such treated water.
Space for tanks, which has been made by razing forests and other means, amounts to about 230,000 sq m – equivalent to almost 32 football fields. There is almost no more available vacant space.
Efforts have been made to increase storage capacity by constructing bigger tanks when the time comes for replacing the current ones. But a senior official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said, “Operation of tanks is close to its capacity.”
TEPCO plans to secure 1.37 million tons of storage capacity by the end of 2020, but it has not yet decided on a plan for after 2021. Akira Ono, chief decommissioning officer of TEPCO, said, “It is impossible to continue to store [treated water] forever.”
Tritium exists in nature, such as in seas and rivers, and is also included in tap water. The ordinary operations of nuclear plants produce tritium as well.
Nuclear plants, both in Japan and overseas, have so far diluted it and released it into the sea or elsewhere. An average of 380 trillion becquerels had been annually released into the sea across Japan during the five years before the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Bottles that contain the treated water continue to be brought one after another to a building for chemical analysis on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The tritium concentration of the treated water is up to more than 1 million becquerels per liter, which is more than 10 times higher than the national standard for release into the sea – 60,000 becquerels per liter. But if diluted, it can be released into the sea.
The industry ministry’s working group compiled a report in June 2016 that said that the method of release into the sea is the cheapest and quickest among five ideas it examined. The ideas were:
– release into the sea;
– release by evaporation;
– release after electrolysis;
– burial underground;
– injection into geological layers.
The committee plans to hold a public hearing in Fukushima Prefecture and other places to hear citizens’ opinions on methods of disposal.

Storage capacity for radioactive water at Fukushima power plant nears limit

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May 19, 2018
The number of storage tanks for contaminated water and other materials has continuously increased at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and space for still more tanks is approaching the limit.
 
Behind this is the fact that a way to get rid of treated water, or tritium water, has not been decided yet. The government and TEPCO will have to make a tough decision on disposal of tritium water down the road.
Water volume increasing
At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, groundwater and other water enters the reactor buildings that suffered meltdowns, where the water becomes contaminated. This produces about 160 tons of contaminated water per day. Purification devices remove many of the radioactive materials, but tritium — a radioactive isotope of hydrogen — cannot be removed for technical reasons. Thus, treated water that includes only tritium continues to increase.
 
Currently, the storage tanks have a capacity of about 1.13 million tons. About 1.07 million tons of that capacity is now in use, of which about 80 percent is for such treated water.
Space for tanks, which has been made by razing forests and other means, amounts to about 230,000 square meters — equivalent to almost 32 soccer fields. There is almost no more available vacant space.
Efforts have been made to increase storage capacity by constructing bigger tanks when the time comes for replacing the current ones. But a senior official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said, “Operation of tanks is close to its capacity.”
TEPCO plans to secure 1.37 million tons of storage capacity by the end of 2020, but it has not yet decided on a plan for after 2021. Akira Ono, chief decommissioning officer of TEPCO, said, “It is impossible to continue to store [treated water] forever.”
Sea release rated highly
Tritium exists in nature, such as in seas and rivers, and is also included in tap water. The ordinary operations of nuclear plants produce tritium as well. Nuclear plants, both in Japan and overseas, have so far diluted it and released it into the sea or elsewhere. An average of 380 trillion becquerels had been annually released into the sea across Japan during the five years before the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Bottles that contain the treated water continue to be brought one after another to a building for chemical analysis on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The tritium concentration of the treated water is up to more than 1 million becquerels per liter, which is more than 10 times higher than the national standard for release into the sea — 60,000 becquerels per liter. But if diluted, it can be released into the sea.
Regarding disposal methods for the treated water, the industry ministry’s working group compiled a report in June 2016 that said that the method of release into the sea is the cheapest and quickest among five ideas it examined. The ideas were (1) release into the sea, (2) release by evaporation, (3) release after electrolysis, (4) burial underground and (5) injection into geological layers.
After that, the industry ministry also established an expert committee to look into measures against harmful misinformation. Although a year and a half has passed since the first meeting of the committee, it has not yet reached a conclusion.
At the eighth meeting of the committee held on Friday, various opinions were expressed. One expert said, “While the fishery industry [in Fukushima and other prefectures] is in the process of revival, should we dispose of [the treated water] now?” The other said, “In order to advance the decommissioning, the number of tanks should be decreased at an early date.”
The committee plans to hold a public hearing in Fukushima Prefecture and other places to hear citizens’ opinions on methods of disposal.

Contaminated water leak found at Ehime Pref. nuke plant

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In this file photo, the No. 3 reactor, center left, of Shikoku Electric Power Co. Ikata Nuclear Power Station is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on March 28, 2017.
IKATA, Ehime — Water containing radioactive materials has leaked from a purification system inside of a stalled nuclear reactor here, Shikoku Electric Power Co. and the Ehime Prefectural Government announced on May 9.
The leak occurred in the auxiliary building of the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata Nuclear Power Station in the town of Ikata, Ehime Prefecture. According to the prefectural government and Shikoku Electric, the coolant water was found to be leaking from the pressure gauge stop valve for the purification system at around 2:10 a.m. on May 9.
The radiation level of the materials in the roughly 130 milliliters of escaped water measured 20 becquerels, far below the standard for filing a report to the central government. The utility and Ehime Prefecture said there is no reported leakage outside of the facility, nor was there any danger posed to employees or the surrounding environment. Regardless, the reason for the leak will be investigated thoroughly.
The No. 3 Reactor at the facility was restarted in August 2016. However, while the rector was undergoing a scheduled inspection in December 2017, a temporary injunction was handed down by the Hiroshima High Court that halted operation at the site.
(Japanese original by Aoi Hanazawa, Matsuyama Bureau)

Fukushima’s Other Big Problem: A Million Tons of Radioactive Water

Dumping has been recommended by the NRA (Japanese Nuclear Regulations Authority) and the IAEA, but TEPCO has never officialy declared its choice/its decision to dump. By fear of the public reaction locally and internationally. Any website/blog which affirms TEPCO’s decision to dump it is not correct.

However, that said, if TEPCO decides to actually do it, they will never announce it but rather choose to do it unofficially, without announcement, gradually, little by little in a sneaky manner.
Which I suspect they have been doing all along already since 3 to 4 years thru the bypass. The bypass is used officially to divert the ruisseling groundwater coming downhills to not penetrate the underground of the plant, in order to not increase the quantity of the penetrating groundwater getting contaminated there in the basements of the reactors, so as to not increase the quantity of contaminated groundwater needing to be pumped out and to be later partiallly decontaminated. That diverted groundwater is thru the bypass released into the port of Fukushima Daiichi (into the sea). I suspect they are also releasing partially decontaminated water thru that bypass.
april 27 2018
The tsunami-driven seawater that engulfed Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has long since receded. But plant officials are still struggling to cope with another dangerous flood: the enormous amounts of radioactive water the crippled facility generates each day. More than 1 million tons of radiation-laced water is already being kept on-site in an ever-expanding forest of hundreds of hulking steel tanks—and so far, there’s no plan to deal with them.
The earthquake and tsunami that hammered Fukushima on March 11, 2011 triggered meltdowns in three of its six reactors. That left messes of intensely radioactive fuel somewhere loose in the reactor buildings—though no one knows exactly where. What is known, however, is that every day, as much as much as 150 tons of groundwater percolates into the reactors through cracks in their foundations, becoming contaminated with radioactive isotopes in the process.
To keep that water from leaking into the ground or the Pacific, Tepco, the giant utility that owns the plant, pumps it out and runs it through a massive filtering system housed in a building the size of a small aircraft hangar. Inside are arrays of seven-foot tall stainless steel tubes, filled with sand grain-like particles that perform a process called ion exchange. The particles grab on to ions of cesium, strontium, and other dangerous isotopes in the water, making room for them by spitting out sodium. The highly toxic sludge created as a byproduct is stored elsewhere on the site in thousands of sealed canisters.
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This technology has improved since the catastrophe. The first filtering systems, installed just weeks after the disaster by California-based Kurion Inc. (which has since been bought by Veolia, a French resource management company), only caught cesium, a strong gamma radiation emitter that makes it the most dangerous of the isotopes in the water. The tubes in those arrays were filled with highly modified grains of naturally occurring volcanic minerals called zeolites. By 2013, the company developed entirely artificial particles—a form of titano silicate—that also grab strontium.
The filters, however, don’t catch tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. That’s a much trickier task. Cesium and strontium atoms go into solution with the water, like sugar in tea; but tritium can bond with oxygen just like regular hydrogen, rendering the water molecules themselves radioactive. “It’s one thing to separate cesium from water, but how do you separate water from water?” asks John Raymont, Kurion’s founder and now president of Veolia’s nuclear solutions group. The company claims to have developed a system that can do the job, but Tepco has so far balked at the multi-billion dollar cost.
So for now, the tritiated water is pumped into a steadily growing collection of tanks. There are already hundreds of them, and Tepco has to start building a new one every four days.
Tepco has at least reduced the water’s inflow. As much as 400 tons per day was gushing in just a couple of years ago. In an effort to keep the groundwater from getting in, Tepco has built a network of pumps, and in 2016 installed an underground “ice wall”—a $300 million subterranean fence of 30-yard-long rods through which tons of sub-zero brine is pumped, freezing the surrounding earth. All of which helps, but hasn’t solved the problem.
Tritium is far less dangerous than cesium—it emits a weaker, lower-energy form of radiation. Still, all that tritiated water can’t just be stored indefinitely. “Some of those tanks and pipes will eventually fail. It’s inevitable,” says Dale Klein, a former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has been consulting with Tepco since the early days following the disaster. (In fact, hundreds of tons of water leaked out of the tanks in 2013 and 2014, sparking an international outcry. Tepco has since improved their design.)
Klein, among others, believes that the concentrations of tritium are low enough that the water can safely be released into the sea. “They should dilute and dispose of it,” he says. “It would be better to have a controlled release than an accidental one.”
But the notion of dumping tons of radioactive water into the ocean is understandably a tough sell. Whatever faith the Japanese public had left in Tepco took a further beating in the first couple of years after the meltdowns, when several investigations forced the company to acknowledge they had underreported the amount of radiation released during and after the disaster. Japan’s fishing industry raises a ruckus whenever the idea of dumping the tritiated water is broached; they already have to contend with import restrictions imposed by neighboring countries worried about eating contaminated fish. Japan’s neighbors including China, Korea, and Taiwan have also objected.
For now, all Tepco can do is keep building tanks, and hope that someone comes up with a solution before they run out of room—or the next earthquake hits.

Seven years on, radioactive water at Fukushima plant still flowing into ocean, study finds

Fukushima Daiichi still leaking radioactivity into Pacific Ocean. That expensive Ice wall turned out to be a slushy. Keep trying. Better yet, shut down before meltdown.
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Fukushima Daiichi still leaking radioactivity into Pacific Ocean. That expensive Ice wall turned out to be a slushy. Keep trying. Better yet, shut down before meltdown.
More than seven years after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, radioactive water is continuing to flow into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled No. 1 plant at a rate of around 2 billion becquerels a day, a study has found.
The amount of leaking cesium 137 has decreased from some 30 billion becquerels in 2013, Michio Aoyama, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity at Fukushima University, said in his study, which was presented Wednesday at an academic conference in Osaka.
The study said the concentration of radiation — 0.02 becquerel per liter of seawater found in samples collected near a coastal town 8 km south of the No. 1 plant — is at a level that does not affect the local fishing industry.
The radioactive water is generated in a process to cool melted nuclear fuel at three damaged reactors at the complex. The reactors experienced core meltdowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“It can be assumed that there is a path from the complex to the ocean” through which contaminated water flows, Aoyama said.
The water accumulates in the basements of the buildings at the site after being used to cool the melted fuel.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of the Fukushima complex, has been trying to prevent contaminated water from increasing within the facilities by building an underground ice wall in an effort to block ground water. It has also built a seawall aimed at preventing contaminated water from entering the ocean.