Fukushima water: drink and bathe yourself



For two years, a team of 11 scientists, nuclear safety experts authorized by the United Nations, investigated the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. These reputable people also studied the Japanese government’s proposed plan to discharge decontaminated water from the plant into the world ocean. This group, as it follows from the world media publications, included representatives of China as well as Russia.

In the course of their research work, scientists took water samples from reservoirs near Fukushima where treated water from the plant was contained. These samples were then sent to various overseas laboratories authorized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as independent research centers.

All of these studies showed that after treatment and filtration, the radioactive elements in the water were well below even the international standard. The research resulted in a published report that concluded that the Japanese water discharge plan was reasonable and safe. That is, the IAEA working group (including a Chinese expert) unanimously concluded that the Fukushima nuclear wastewater treatment complied with the requirements, and the plan was approved. And IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that the method of nuclear wastewater treatment chosen by Japan is technically feasible and complies with international practice.

At the same time, the Chinese expert in the working group did not object to the proposed plan. During the work of this group, the world media expressed concerns about the discharge of decontaminated water, but they did not have the character of a targeted campaign. No one in the world cried out about the threatening mortal danger to mankind. The UN Security Council did not hold special meetings on this issue. The alarm on the part of Beijing manifested itself fully only on the eve of the discharge. As the TASS news agency reported, Sergei Shinkarev, Russia’s expert at the IAEA, confirmed that «the planned discharge of water from the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant into the ocean within the limits outlined by the Japanese side does not pose any radiation danger to residents.»

But that all changed when the Japanese government and Fukushima staff got ready to implement the plan. The Chinese would not be Chinese if they did not skillfully use the situation to tarnish Japan’s already not very favorable image within China and to throw mud on it internationally.

Long before the reservoirs were opened, the Chinese media and the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Japanese of irresponsibility. And when water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant leaked into the ocean on August 24, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called Japan’s actions selfish and irresponsible.

«It is extremely selfish and irresponsible behavior to openly transfer the risk of radioactive contamination to the world,» Wang Wenbin said and called on the Japanese side to «immediately correct its selfish behavior of transferring the risk of nuclear contamination to the world» and to prevent «Fukushima water from becoming a source of shame for Japan.» «If anyone believes that radioactively contaminated water from Fukushima is suitable for drinking or swimming, we suggest that the Japanese side and those people use it for drinking and bathing instead of discharging it into the ocean, causing concern to the international community,» the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

This was said despite the fact that the (IAEA) confirmed: it is monitoring the start of the discharge and the agency’s experts are working on site to ensure that the procedure meets safety standards. By the way, according to the Japanese plan, each ton of water from Fukushima will be diluted with 1,200 tons of clean seawater, NHK writes. The first water discharge will take place over 17 days. In total, this process will take about 30 years.

But there was action behind the word. The General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China reported that China had completely suspended imports of aquatic products produced in Japan since August 24. Unfortunately, the author was unable to find figures on the volume and value of these imports. However, according to the data of Japanese and international structures, the deficit of seafood products in the domestic market of Japan now amounts to about $15 billion. It is not quite clear how Japan can supply any significant volumes of seafood to China given such a deficit and the Japanese people’s special love for seafood. Perhaps it is a question of insignificant supplies of some individual species, probably of the highest price segment. In recent years, Japanese fishermen have been experiencing considerable difficulties, going bankrupt, and Japan is increasingly focused on seafood imports. It is widely known that Japanese imports of these products from Russia, including smuggled ones, have been emptying Russian shelves for several decades. The standard of living in Japan is so high, as are their prices, that selling any goods there, even at the risk of freedom, is good business, on which both Japan and Russia have made fortunes.

But, as they say, you can’t eat seafood alone. According to Chinese media reports, after the start of the Fukushima water discharge and the Chinese government’s statements in this regard, the demand for personal radioactivity detectors in China has grown so sharply that it cannot yet be covered by manufacturers. It can be said that the Chinese leadership has succeeded.

What about Russia? Russian Federal Agency for Fishery reported that Russian vessels are not fishing in the area where Japan discharged water from the nuclear power plant. This is understandable, since we are talking about the territorial waters of Japan. According to official media reports, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare is closely monitoring the Fukushima discharge and regularly takes water samples in areas of the Far East. The All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography will conduct comprehensive studies, TASS reported. So far, no exceedances have been detected and no alarming reports have been received. Except for the fact that all kinds of experts have become active, who in unison with the Chinese say that the discharge of water into the world ocean is bad.

Of course, there’s nothing good about it. But what is the alternative? For the sake of objectivity, it should be said that Japanese experts have suggested other ways of disposing of radioactive water, including injection into formations, evaporation, hydrogen release, and underground disposal. But there is no evidence that other methods of getting rid of the contamination would have been safer. It cannot be ruled out that the Japanese chose the cheapest one, but they have already spent more than a hundred billion dollars to clean up the accident. However, reservoirs with treated water could not stand in the Fukushima area forever. They would also be threatened by earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis, which we know are not uncommon in Japan. Then the discharge would be as out of control as it was during the plant accident in 2011. (Back then, by the way, tons of water took hundreds of homes and other structures, boats, cars and trucks into the ocean.) For the sake of objectivity, it should be said that such incidents and accidents are an integral part of nuclear power, no matter what or whoever says about its exceptional purity. Storing radioactive waste from these plants and ensuring their safety is a far more complex and sometimes insoluble problem than contaminating the ocean with discharges from Fukushima. (Germany, by the way, closed its last nuclear power plants this year, completely abandoning this type of energy).

Experts say that the level of radioactivity on the planet will inevitably grow in the coming years, regardless of Japanese behavior. Well, what about nuclear weapons, threatening mankind with apocalypse, which no one is going to get rid of? Maybe we should shift the focus from one small problem to another huge one?