Tritium contaminated water from Fukushima to be dumped in Pacific Ocean

The Independent reports, 15th July 2017: Water tainted with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, is to be released into the Pacific Ocean, says the head of the company responsible for the Fukushima clean-up operation.

There are around 580 of barrels containing the radioactive water which was used to cool the nuclear plant’s damaged reactors.

Picture: The Daily Telegraph, 14th July 2017.

Local residents are furious at plans to release the radioactive tritium from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant, which suffered a triple meltdown, into the sea.

“The decision has already been made,” said Takashi Kawamura, chairman of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Debate has raged over the disposal of almost 777,000 tons of waste containing tritium.

However, Tepco need to wait for the government’s final decision to release the water into the sea. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state,” Mr Kawamura said in a Japan Times report.

A supporter of releasing the water into the sea is Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. In the past, Tanaka has slated Tepco for their hesitant stance. “An operator lacking the will to take the initiative does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors,” he said.

Local fishermen are against the proposal of ocean release, fearing that the negative publicity will affect their livelihoods. “Releasing (tritium) into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumours, making our efforts all for naught,” said Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishermen’s co-operative.

Tritium is said to be of little danger to humans unless exposed to high quantities. According to NRA chairman Tanaka, the chemical is “so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping”.

Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton told the Guardian: “In the broad scale of things, if they do end up putting the material in the Pacific, it will have minimal effect on an ocean basin scale.”

Environmental activists fear that dumping the tritium-laced water into the ocean could become commonplace.

“They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas,” Aileen Mioko-Smith of Green Action Japan said.

The clean-up operation from the Fukushima disaster is estimated to cost around $20bn (£14bn).


Source: The Independent, 15th July 2017. For further details, see


Note: Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen, used in research, fusion reactors and neutron generators. The radioactive properties of tritium are very useful. By mixing tritium with a chemical that emits light in the presence of radiation, a phosphor, a continuous light source is made. This can be applied to situations where a dim light is needed but where using batteries or electricity is not possible or practical. Rifle sights and exit signs are two examples of where this phenomenon is commonly used. The phosphor sights help increase night-time firing accuracy and the exit signs can be life saver if there is a loss of power. The radioactive decay product of tritium is a low energy beta that cannot penetrate the outer dead layer of human skin. Therefore, the main hazard associated with tritium is internal exposure from inhalation or ingestion. In addition, due to the relatively long half life and short biological half life, an intake of tritium must be in large amounts to pose a significant health risk. Although, in keeping with the philosophy of ALARA, internal exposure should be kept as low as practical.



Marinet observes: The tritium arising here comes from cooling water sent through the collapsed nuclear reactors in order to keep their temperature under control. This water becomes contaminated with a very broad range of radionuclides. The water is cleansed for these radionuclides which are then stored separately. However there is currently no technical means to extract the tritium — hence the tritium contaminated cooling water is accumulating, and now requires disposal. The need to release tritium arising from this source is likely to be long-term. All marine life in the vicinity of the dumping will be exposed to the tritium. Tritium emits low energy beta particles, and the tritium isotope has a half-life of 12.3 years.


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