Tokyo Electric Power Co. may evaporate or store underground tritium-laced water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant as an alternative to releasing it into the ocean, according to the man in charge of decommissioning the facility.
The removal of hundreds of thousands of tons of water containing tritium, a relatively harmless radioactive isotope left behind in treated water, is one of many issues facing Tepco as it tries to clean up the wrecked plant.
Tepco wants to release the tritium laced water to the ocean, a common practice at normally operating nuclear plants around the world. However, it is struggling to get approval from local fisherman who are concerned about the impact on consumer confidence and have little faith in the company.
With the release into the ocean stalled, the government task force overseeing the cleanup is looking at letting the water evaporate or storing it underground, Tepco’s chief decommissioning official, Naohiro Masuda, said Wednesday at the close of a seminar on the decommissioning.
Masuda said he doesn’t know when the discussions will be completed and a decision made.
Time and space is running out for Tepco, which has been forced to build hundreds of tanks to hold contaminated and treated water.
The evaporation method was used after the Three Mile Island disaster in the U.S., but the amounts were much smaller, Dale Klein, an outside adviser to Tepco, said last week.
“They have huge volumes of water so they cannot evaporate it like they did at Three Mile Island,” Klein said. “If they did, it would likely be evaporated, go out over the ocean, condense and fall back as rainwater. There’s no safety enhancement.”
Tepco has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was wrecked by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and three reactors underwent meltdowns.
Water flushed over the wrecked reactors to keep them cool enough to prevent further radioactive releases is treated, but current technology can’t remove tritium.
“They really do need to make a decision,” Klein said. “Storing it in all those tanks, you are just asking for failure.”
Missteps and leaks have dogged the efforts to contain the water, slowing down the decades-long decommissioning process and causing public alarm.
“I think they will need to make that decision,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Stephen Burns said when asked at a media briefing Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy whether Japan should release the tritium-laced water.