Scientists find controversial Fukushima wastewater to be safe for release

Scientific evidence suggests Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant is safe for humans and marine wildlife.

Fukushima wastewater safe for release
Fukushima, the site of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown in 2011.

Radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which suffered a catastrophic meltdown in 2011, is slowly being released into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years. Understandably, there are concerns over the potential risks this new discharge represents, but the science says it’s safe.

A Science review has offered insight into the potential impacts of these planned releases on marine life and humans after reviewing evidence from past releases of radioactivity and radiation dose calculations from independent researchers and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Tritium problem

Tritium, present as tritiated water (HTO), is the main contaminant of concern. Like other radioactive substances, it can induce DNA damage in organisms; however, its low radiotoxicity significantly reduces potential harm. Its chemical similarity to ordinary water also prevents biomagnification as its dispersion is controlled by the much larger volume of non-radioactive water.

The plan - as long as it is carried out correctly - is supported by strong scientific evidence on the risks of radioactivity discharges to marine systems.

The water released will be diluted 100 times, ensuring tritiated water levels are about 40 times less than the discharge limit. Comparisons with nuclear facilities globally showed the planned discharge will be much lower than those from other nuclear facilities, leading experts to conclude the estimated radiation doses to marine life and seafood consumers will fall well below safety thresholds.

“The release follows stringent regulations and safety measures,” explains Professor Jim Smith, from the University of Portsmouth. “The plan – as long as it is carried out correctly - is supported by strong scientific evidence on the risks of radioactivity discharges to marine systems.

“Our long-term studies have found that much more contaminated aquatic ecosystems near Chernobyl show remarkable resilience to radiation – fish and aquatic insect populations are thriving.”

Safe wastewater

Levels of other radionuclides are also being carefully monitored by state-of-the-art radioanalytical methods, as is done for nuclear power plant releases all over the world, to ensure compliance with standards set by regulatory bodies.

Tony Irwin, Honorary Associate Professor from the Australian National University says: “Tritiated water releases happen all over the world at significantly higher levels than the Fukushima release and have been happening for many decades.”

Irwin says the Kori Power Station in South Korea discharges about twice as much tritiated water to the sea compared to Fukushima, while the La Hague facility in northern France discharges 450 times as much with no significant radiation doses occurring.

“There are understandable concerns from the Fukushima community and the public, given the historical context of the disaster, but these fears are not based on scientific evidence,” concludes Associate Professor Nigel Marks, from Curtin University. “The scientific consensus, backed by evidence, is that the release of Fukushima wastewater poses no significant threat.”