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Japan’s Controversial Fukushima Water Release


Japan plans to release over 1 million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant on August 24. Despite the controversy, the government argues that this move is vital for plant cleanup after the 2011 disaster. Seen as a crucial step in decommissioning the facility and aiding Fukushima prefecture’s recovery from the earthquake and tsunami tragedy, the water release marks a significant development.


GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Timeline and Impact
  2. Japanese Government’s Water Disposal Plan and Opposition
  3. Japan’s Alternatives and Expert Opinions on Fukushima Water Disposal

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Timeline and Impact

  • March 2011: A powerful magnitude 9 earthquake strikes, followed by a tsunami that inundates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma.
  • Diesel generators are damaged, leading to a loss of power and cooling systems failure for the reactors.
  • The absence of cooling triggers reactor meltdowns and explosions due to the build-up of pressure and heat.
  • Radioactive materials are released, contaminating air, water, soil, and the local population.
  • Winds disperse radioactive particles into the Pacific Ocean.
  • The area around the power plant becomes uninhabitable and remains so, rendering the facility and its surroundings unusable.

Japanese Government’s Water Disposal Plan and Opposition

Government’s Intentions:
  • The Japanese government aims to release water from the Fukushima nuclear plant that was used to cool reactors, along with rainwater and groundwater.
  • This water contains radioactive isotopes from damaged reactors and was crucial for cooling purposes.
  • The plan involves treating the water to remove most radioactive elements before releasing it into the Pacific Ocean over a span of 30 years.
  • Such water releases are common practice in nuclear plants globally after treating to meet safety standards.
Reasons for Opposition:
  • Critics argue that no radiation exposure can be considered entirely safe, challenging the claim that the treated water will be harmless.
  • Experts warn that any discharge of radioactive substances into the ocean could heighten cancer risks and other health consequences for exposed populations.
  • Tritium, a challenging isotope to remove from the water, is a particular concern. It is easily absorbed by organisms and distributed via blood circulation.
  • Concerns also surround potential contamination of aquatic life, especially fish, impacting ecosystems and seafood industry.
  • Countries like South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Pacific Islands Forum have voiced objections to the plan, reflecting broader regional concerns.
  • Calls for comprehensive studies on water tank contents before discharge are being made by researchers worldwide.

Japan’s Alternatives and Expert Opinions on Fukushima Water Disposal

Alternative Options for Japan:
  • One alternative for Japan is to store the contaminated water for an extended period before considering discharge.
  • Tritium’s half-life is around 12-13 years, meaning its radioactivity will naturally decrease over time.
  • Similarly, other radioactive isotopes’ levels will also decrease during this period, potentially leading to less radioactive water upon eventual discharge.
Expert Perspectives:
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report in July affirming that if the discharge is carried out as planned, it will have minimal environmental and human health impact.
  • Many scientists support the IAEA’s stance on the matter.
  • However, some experts highlight the need to study the potential long-term consequences of low-dose radioactivity that might persist in the discharged water.

-Source: The Hindu

April 2024