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Monday
Apr292013

Tritium contamination of growing stockpile of radioactive water leads to outcry against release to Pacific at Fukushima Daiichi

Gray and silver storage tanks filled with radioactive wastewater are sprawling over the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Kyodo News, via Associated Press.In an article entitled "Flow of Tainted Water Is Latest Crisis at Japan Nuclear Plant," the New York Times has reported that continuing leaks of groundwater into the rubblized Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is causing a flood of radioactively contaminated water requiring a sprawling -- and ever growing -- complex of water storage tanks.

As the New York Times reports:

'...But the biggest problem, critics say, was that Tepco and other members of the oversight committee appeared to assume all along that they would eventually be able to dump the contaminated water into the ocean once a powerful new filtering system was put in place that could remove 62 types of radioactive particles, including strontium.

The dumping plans have now been thwarted by what some experts say was a predictable problem: a public outcry over tritium, a relatively weak radioactive isotope that cannot be removed from the water.

Tritium, which can be harmful only if ingested, is regularly released into the environment by normally functioning nuclear plants, but even Tepco acknowledges that the water at Fukushima contains about 100 times the amount of tritium released in an average year by a healthy plant...

...The public outcry over the plans to dump tritium-tainted water into the sea — driven in part by the company’s failure to inform the public in 2011 when it dumped radioactive water into the Pacific — was so loud that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe personally intervened last month to say that there would be “no unsafe release.”

Meanwhile, the amount of water stored at the plant just keeps growing.

“How could Tepco not realize that it had to get public approval before dumping this into the sea?” said Muneo Morokuzu, an expert on public policy at the University of Tokyo who has called for creating a specialized new company just to run the cleanup. “This all just goes to show that Tepco is in way over its head.”...'

It should be pointed out that tritium is not a "relatively weak radioactive isotope," but rather a relatively powerful one, once incorporated into the human body. Tritium is a clinically proven cause of cancer, birth defects, and genetic damage.

It must also be corrected that ingestion is not the only pathway for tritium incorporation -- inhalation, and even absorption through the skin, are hazardous exposure pathways.