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No harm as Japan releases treated water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

By Rumina Velshi

Clear science and hard truths are needed to correct misinformation related to the release of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Public trust is a cornerstone of the nuclear safety culture. And that public trust is being eroded as anger is whipped up over Japan’s decision.

As Canada’s nuclear safety regulator, I believe it’s important to acknowledge the legitimate public anxiety about the safe disposal of nuclear waste. At the same time, I have complete confidence that Japan’s decision to release the Fukushima wastewater is justified by sound science. Publicly available data shows that all dangerous radioisotopes were removed from the water prior to the release, except for tritium, which cannot be fully removed. However, this treated water has quantities of tritium so small, that its release will cause no harm to marine life, microorganisms, or people.

How can we be certain of this? First, the quantities fall well in line with international standards. And second, every day, countries around the world discharge cooling water containing even greater quantities of tritium without harming marine life or people. This is true in my own country, Canada, as it is true for several other nuclear facilities including in the United States and the United Kingdom. And since much of the public concern and outrage being reported over Japan’s decision is occurring in Asia, it is worth remembering that many nuclear facilities in South Korea as well as in China also release water containing tritium into the marine environment - often in quantities far in excess of what is being planned for release from Fukushima. I think the rhetoric that is whipping up public anxiety is far more toxic than anything Japan is releasing into the Pacific Ocean.

Following the terrible nuclear accident in 2011, Japan has shown tremendous resolve and engaged in extensive collaboration on a global scale on the issue of nuclear safety. I have personally met with Japanese regulators on several occasions, visited Fukushima multiple times, and seen firsthand the rigorous safety regimes they implement to manage wastewater: their approach is meticulous, robust and best-in-class.

The IAEA has been working closely with Japan to ensure incredibly strict safety standards on the release of the Fukushima treated water before it is discharged. In particular, the traces of tritium found in the Pacific Ocean due to this discharge are more than 1000 times lower than what Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has as a limit – and well below any international standards.

The IAEA launched a public web page to provide live data on the water discharge – to ensure the public could follow and recognize that there is no detriment to the environment, marine/animal life, or human beings. The international community should be fostering support for Japan right now; everything it has done has been entirely transparent, including its regulatory process and regular updates, and with the safety of the world in mind.

I applaud the diligent and comprehensive work of Japan’s nuclear safety regulator, the NRA, and the IAEA – as well as all the reputable international organizations and member states that have worked with Japan to help them achieve viable solutions for the full life cycle of nuclear waste from Fukushima.

It saddens me to read global news headlines about countries relying on junk science, banning Japanese food. I for one, have no hesitation ordering sushi; and nor should you.

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