ENVIRONMENT

Utah expert says water from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is safe

Aug 31, 2023, 3:02 PM | Updated: 3:10 pm

The Fukushima No. 1 power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. at Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, norther...

The Fukushima No. 1 power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. at Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan. Reactors at the plant melted down following a 2011 earthquake-triggered tsunami. (Associated Press/Kyodo News)

(Associated Press/Kyodo News)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is being released into the Pacific Ocean. A Utah health and safety expert says there’s nothing to worry about.

The water has been treated to remove most radioactive compounds. 

Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, 1.34 million tons of water have accumulated at the nuclear power plant. The disaster began with an earthquake-triggered tsunami. Three reactors were flooded and melted in the three days following, according to the World Nuclear Association

Wastewater still accumulates at the site of the disaster to keep the reactors cool and prevent further damage.

Despite concerns from other nations, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said the release of the water will have a “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment,” NPR reported. 

The event is regarded as the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster. 

 Fred Monette, the executive director of environmental health and safety at the University of Utah told KSL NewsRadio that the water can be decontaminated. Even though it is highly radioactive prior to decontamination. 

 

He said that during decontamination, the water is run through a series of filters and ion resin columns. Monette described the process as a “very expensive and very complicated Brita filter.” 

The process can remove “99.99-plus-percent” of radioactive material, according to Monette. The only material that is not removable from the water is tritium. 

Tritium 

Tritium is a radioactive isotope produced in the nuclear fission process. 

“Water is H2O, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. So, in the fission process in a reactor, tritium, this radioactive hydrogen, hydrogen three, is often produced,” said Monette.

High concentrations of tritium are in the water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. 

The radioactive isotope is difficult to remove from water. According to Monette, trying to remove tritium from water is “essentially trying to filter water out of water.” 

The isotope’s presence in treated water is not concerning because it naturally occurs in the environment, Monette said. Furthermore, if tritium enters the human body, it has a very low toxicity. 

Tritium behaves like water and distributes uniformly throughout the body. Since it does not concentrate, it delivers a very low dose of radiation. 

“It’s not really a health issue, it’s more of that stigma of ‘radiation is bad’,” said Monette. 

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