By Antonio Hermosin Gandul
Okuma, Japan, Jun 14 (EFE).- The Fukushima nuclear power plant is finalizing preparations to discharge tons of purified radioactive water into the Pacific this summer, a contentious measure that awaits the approval of international experts.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant, which faced the worst atomic accident since the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, 1986, due to an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011, prepares for a crucial step in its long and complex dismantling process.
The large amount of waste liquid at the plant is treated to remove most of the radioactive materials from it to ensure safe levels before being discharged into the ocean, according to Japanese authorities, who still face complaints from local communities and neighboring countries.
Clean-up, decommissioning and construction of new facilities at Fukushima Daiichi have made visible progress in recent years.
There are hardly any masses of scrap metal, rubble or other remnants from the devastating tsunami of more than 15 meters that triggered an atomic crisis that had Japan on tenterhooks more than a decade ago.
The works to reinforce the buildings of the four damaged nuclear reactors and prepare for the extraction of atomic fuel are progressing as planned, although they face the enormous technical challenges of operating in the conditions of extreme radioactivity and low visibility inside.
But the most outstanding novelty is the installation of several phases of the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) and a pumping, storage and pipeline circuit to treat and pour water from the plant, located on the waterfront.
TEPCO, the plant’s operator, is verifying the effectiveness of the system to filter radioactive elements such as cesium or strontium and completing the installation of water testing devices and the network of pipes that will take it to the sea, the company’s spokesperson Keinichi Takahara explained to EFE.
The ALPS system is capable of removing all radioactive materials from the wastewater except tritium, a radioisotope of hydrogen that is also naturally generated in the atmosphere.
The purified liquid shall also be mixed with sea water to further reduce its concentration of tritium before dumping, to a level about forty times below the limit set by the Government of Japan for drinking water, and 1/7 of the maximum limit set by the World Health Organization.
The system is expected to be ready by the end of the month, according to the spokesman, who stressed that tritium in low concentrations does not pose any risk to human health and recalled that the dumping of tritiated water is a common practice in nuclear plants around the world.
This method of discharge was devised by the Japanese authorities and TEPCO to dispose of the 1.32 million tons of processed water stored in more than a thousand tanks inside the plant enclosure, where storage space has exhausted.
The contaminated liquid comes from seawater injected into the reactors for cooling and from the continuous influx of rain and underground aquifers into the units.
The Japanese plan is being overseen by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which, after a series of on-site inspections since last year, plans to publish a report of findings by the end of the month.
Once the IAEA gives the final greenlight, the Daiichi operators will open the channels to begin the discharge to the Pacific.
TEPCO, IAEA and independent laboratories around the world will analyze samples of water and marine organisms around the plant before and during the discharge to verify that it remains within standards considered safe.
Despite these assurances, fishing cooperatives off the Fukushima coast remain steadfast in opposition to the spill, fearing that it will be a new blow to the reputation of local produce.
Concerns have also been expressed on health and environmental grounds by neighboring China and South Korea, the Pacific Forum, the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace and some sections from the international scientific community. EFE