Disasters & Accidents

IAEA collects water samples from Fukushima in first task force visit

By Maria Roldan

Tokyo, Feb 18 (EFE).- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday wrapped up its first task force visit to Japan to review a plan to discharge treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea and to collect water samples, describing it as “very productive.”

The deputy director general and head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, Lydie Evrard, participated in a press conference at the end of the first trip of experts to the country, on which a report will be published at the end of April.

The visit was productive and focused on technical questions about the roles and responsibilities of the company that owns the damaged plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in the process of discharging the water, Evrard said.

The team includes members of the organization and 11 external experts from Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, the Marshall Islands, South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

The task force was created in September, five months after the Japanese government announced its plan to dump the contaminated water used to cool the Fukushima Daiichi plant reactor cores, damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, into Pacific waters after treating it to remove most of the radioactive elements.

The process is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2023.

It is the first time that the agency is facing a review of this magnitude, due to the size of the discharge and the interest, said Evrard, adding that the work will focus on three pillars: reviewing the safety of the process and Tepco’s reports, country regulations and the independence of water analysis.

During its visit, the task force, chaired by Gustavo Caruso, a director in IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, held a series of meetings with the Japanese authorities and on Tuesday visited Fukushima.

There they reviewed Tepco’s samples of the treated water stored in tanks on the facilities’ grounds and collected 50 liters to be analyzed in IAEA laboratories in Monaco and Austria.

Caruso said that water sampling will take place at different stages of the process: before, during and after the discharge, and will also entail the collection of environmental samples.

“The Task Force mission was very productive. We received valuable information – and posed many questions – about all safety aspects of the planned water discharge in frank and open discussions, ranging from the undersea tunnel that will carry the water out to sea to the protection of workers at the site and the public at large,” Caruso said.

Japan spent years deliberating the controversial measure, which is primarily aimed at solving the problem of the accumulation of radioactive water in the Fukushima facility.

Storage tanks occupy a large coastal area and are close to reaching their maximum capacity. As of Feb. 10, some 1.3 million cubic meters of treated water were stored at the facilities, according to data released by Tepco.

This water comes from the cooling of the reactors, as well as from underground aquifers and from rainwater that ends up contaminated.

The water is treated with a processing system that eliminates most of the radioactive materials considered dangerous, with the exception of tritium, an isotope present in nature, although in low concentration.

The Japanese authorities maintain that the discharge will not generate any risk to humans because the levels of tritium released into the sea will be diluted below national health standards and defend that this is a common practice in the industry.

IAEA’s team will analyze the collected samples and compare the results with those obtained by laboratories in Japan, to corroborate the content of the water and verify that the process is consistent with international safety standards.

Japan’s plan review team has already begun reviewing relevant safety documents, including the dumping process implementation plan and ecological impact reports produced by Tepco.

The team plans to travel to Japan again in March to review regulatory issues with the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan. EFE

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