Ex-U.S. nuclear chief says tritium water at Fukushima No. 1 can be dumped safely

by

Staff Writer

A former chief U.S. nuclear regulator asserted Tuesday that the massive volumes of tritium-tainted water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant can be “safely” dumped into the sea after it is diluted to reduce the levels of radioactive tritium below the legal limit.

“Most people don’t know what tritium is, so what they will think about is that it’s bad, something that’s really dangerous. But tritium is an element that we know a lot about,” Dale Klein, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, told a news conference in Tokyo.

“It can be released safely into the ocean. We know worldwide what the safe limit for tritium release is,” said Klein, who once headed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Tepco has been treating water stored at the plant with a system known as ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System), which removes all radioactive materials except for tritium.

The processing has left the utility with vast amounts of water contaminated with heavy doses of tritium. About 350,000 tons of the water is currently stored in hundreds of large tanks, each of which poses a potential leak risk.

Tepco has said the level of tritium in the water is between 1 million and 5 million becquerels per liter. The legal limit for release to the sea is 60,000 becquerels.

Tritium has a half life of 12.3 years, so it would take decades to die down to permitted levels if left undiluted. The element is about one-thousandth as radioactive as the isotopes cesium-134 and cesium-137, according to Tepco.

Tepco said it has not decided yet what to do with the tritium-tainted water, as a government panel is currently trying to figure out what options are available.

Klein said he understands the option to release the water into the Pacific “is intensely emotional” among local fishermen, but he is confident that the they will eventually agree with his view.

He noted that fishermen in the past agreed to an equally controversial decision to discharge clean groundwater pumped up at the site before it seeps into the reactor buildings and becomes contaminated.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday it will release all available radiation data associated with the Fukushima No. 1 plant after facing criticism for failing to promptly announce leaks of radioactive rainwater into the sea.

Tepco said it had a policy of disclosing radiation information for contaminated water stored at the plant facilities if there is a risk of that water reaching the sea. This policy did not cover rainwater in drainage ditches, however radioactive it might be.

The utility has been criticized for not promptly releasing information about radioactive rainwater when it had data confirming leaks had taken place.

Information from Jiji added

  • Liars N. Fools

    Dilute the tritium, then, in the same way TEPCO dilutes the truth.

  • stevek9

    Radiation from tritium is low-energy beta (electrons) that can be stopped by a sheet of paper or the outer surface of your skin. It wouldn’t really matter if it were not diluted on shore, it will be diluted quickly enough in the ocean. Every day, we dump much, much worse things in the ocean. And the real threat to ocean health is acidification from increasing CO2, which can only be addressed with nuclear power (nothing else is going to get the job done).

  • jimhopf

    This is just one more example of how the problem is a basic lack of scientific understanding.

    Tritium is chemically identical to the hydrogen in water. No chemical or physical processes cause it to be separated from ocean water (settled, localized or concentrated, etc.). Thus, it never bio-accumulates. It doesn’t concentrate itself in your body (or in the flesh of fish that you may eat, etc..). If some goes in, it quickly goes right back out.

    Tritium-bearing water that is discharged into the sea will rapidly dilute within the ocean, quickly reaching negligible concentrations. It will then harmlessly decay away. (Other pollutants generally don’t decay away and disappear the way short-lived isotopes do.) It will not have any effect on public health or ocean ecology.

    If it makes people feel better, perhaps they can ship the water out far from shore before releasing it. That eliminates the possibility of any temporary elevated tritium concentrations, on the coast, near the point of discharge.

  • Richard Solomon

    I would hope TEPCO/the government in Tokyo would solicit other expert opinions to confirm that this tritium can be safely discharged into the ocean. If so, then a serious and ongoing educational campaign will need to be done to reassure residents and fishermen that it is safe to do this.

  • Phil Blank

    Trust no one!
    Your fishing is in trouble as it is, don’t add to the problem!

    After more than 40 years of exposing the public to continuous radiological releases, which sometimes exceeded federal limits, tritium leaks into groundwater, thermal pollution of Barnegat Bay and fish kills, the least Exelon could do is clean up their mess once the plant closes.

    The NRC uses a four-tier color scale — green, white, yellow, and red — to grade incidences or problems at nuclear plants. NRC officials have recently stated that Oyster Creek may enter into the yellow finding phase, meaning the plant would require increased federal oversight.

    Public safety demands that the NRC should move on to the yellow finding quickly and dispatch additional full-time inspectors to the plant to make sure operators are not cutting corners to avoid costly maintenance and repairs. The five unplanned shutdowns certainly seem to point to something going on at Oyster Creek that doesn’t inspire public confidence.
    The ultimate fear is always that small problems could lead to bigger ones and spin out of control. Oyster Creek is the same General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor as at Fukushima. NRC officials have an unsettling pattern of regulating with fingers crossed, and have failed to require the installation of radiation filters at Mark 1 plants even though senior staff have made that recommendation. If there was a catastrophic event leading to meltdown, the public would be blasted with a radioactive steam release from Oyster Creek’s stack.

  • Phil Blank

    How can it be safe, or “good, or OK”, when here in the USA they are worried zbout its release?

    Put a lid on nuclear dumping
    Charleston Post Courier-Mar 21, 2015
    The area is off limits to fishing, hunting, swimming and irrigation because of high levels of tritium that has leaked from the landfill.