Japan is planning to release radioactive water leftover from cooling the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean, Reuters reported this week.
The nation is running out of storage for the water, which totals 1 million tons. The water is used to keep cores at Fukushima from melting.
University of Hawaii associate professor of the Department of Earth Sciences Henrietta Dulai has been studying Fukushima’s impact on the Pacific and Hawaii since the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
“Learning from 2011, when the biggest releases happened directly into the ocean, that water was highly enriched in some of the radionuclides that are not present anymore because they cleaned them out from this water that they are storing.” Dulai said.
“So by the composition itself it will be very different from where it was in 2011, but even the releases in 2011 never directly reached Hawaii in that they were contained in a current that went north of us, fortunately.”
The isotopes Tritium, Cesium, Strontium, as well as Iodine were in the initial spill in 2011. Tritium is considered to be the dominant prevailing isotope left in the water storage. It is not considered harmful to touch, but can be dangerous to humans through inhalation or ingestion.
“It has a 12-year half life, so indeed it would linger in the ocean for quite a bit. I should add that there is a lot of tritium in the environment.” Dulai said.
“It’s produced naturally in the atmosphere. A lot of it was also released from nuclear weapons testing so definitely it would add new amounts to the ocean.”
Dulai isn’t concerned about Hawaii’s fish supply.
“If they released the water that they have and based on the information that I could gather, it has Tritium, they have some Strontium and Iodine, so yes that Tritium and Strontium that could incorporate into the food into fish and so that could pose perhaps locally (to Japan) a concern.” She said.
“Even the fish that we caught after 2011 and tested after 2011 it didn’t have levels, orders of magnitude to health concerns. So I would not necessarily be concerned about eating poke even after they released these new planned releases.” she added.
Recently Dulai returned from a 30-day trip to the central north Pacific to study ocean Cesium concentrations. She will continue to monitor what happens if Japan executes a release.
“Cesium is still one of the radionuclides that I continue to monitor in the ocean in Hawaii but further out between Japan and Hawaii, so I would continue to monitor that.” she said.
“It’s actually an opportunity for the scientific community to follow that plume that they release because we learn how the ocean dilutes and disperses things and that helps should any other unfortunate events happen. There is pollution getting into the ocean, so we could better predict which way it would travel and how it would disperse.”
Japan is scheduled to run out of space to store the water in 2022.