ALPS treated water: Japan’s efforts with IAEA and the international community

I feel compelled to write this piece with regard to the article entitled “The Fukushima controversy” written by Dr. Imran Khalid on March 4; I have to point out that the article is based on factual errors and asserts wrong conclusions.
First of all, Japan will never discharge “nuclear wastewater” or “contaminated water,” which exceeds regulatory standards into the sea, as mentioned in the article. There are two different types of water in the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. One is “contaminated water” generated on the site, and the other is “ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System), the system sufficiently purifies such “contaminated water”, treated water,” What Japan is planning to discharge into the sea is “ALPS treated water,” not “contaminated water.” To avoid public confusion, it is important to understand proper terminology; the IAEA has also pointed out the importance of the distinction between those terms.
“ALPS treated water” to be discharged will be sufficiently purified until the concentration of radioactive materials other than tritium is far below the regulatory standard and will be further diluted before the discharge. After the dilution, the concentration of tritium will be 1/40 of the regulatory standard and 1/7 of the WHO drinking water standard, and the concentration of radioactive materials other than tritium will be less than 1 percent of the regulatory standard.
In more detail, the assessment of radiological environmental impacts was conducted in line with the international guidelines, taking into account the effect of bioaccumulation and long-term accumulation. It shows that the impact on humans and the environment would be minimal, considering biological concentration and long-term accumulation. The annual radiation impact on humans from the discharged water is about 0.1 percent of the radiation dose received from a single dental x-ray.
Furthermore, Japan will manage the annual discharge volume of tritium so that it will not exceed 22 trillion Bq, which is equivalent to the target discharge management value for the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station before the accident. While other countries also discharge tritium into the sea in compliance with their own domestic laws and regulations, the amount of tritium in ALPS-treated water is smaller than the amount of tritium discharged from most nuclear power plants and other facilities in other countries.
TEPCO will measure all water before dilution, and it will confirm again before discharging into the sea that the water meets regulatory standards. The IAEA Task Force, comprised of experts from the IAEA Secretariat and 11 internationally recognised including our neighbouring countries appointed by the IAEA; Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, Marshall Islands, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam, will conduct corroboration of monitoring by TEPCO.
Secondly, the article alleges that the decision to discharge the water has been taken “unilaterally, without proper consultation with stakeholders” which is false. The fact shows the opposite. The Government of Japan has held briefing sessions for the diplomatic missions in Tokyo and similar meetings at international conferences including those organised by the IAEA in a transparent manner based on scientific evidence, with an emphasis on providing sufficient data. All data on the safety of ALPS-treated water is available on TEPCO’s website. In addition, the reliability of the data will be corroborated through a review by the IAEA. IAEA also highlighted Japan’s effective cooperation, which made it possible to clearly and promptly convey the results of the review mission to the international community. The Government of Japan will continue to provide information based on scientific evidence and facts to the international community in a highly transparent manner.
Furthermore, the Government of Japan attaches great importance to its relationship with the international community. For example, with the Pacific Island countries/regions which share the Pacific Ocean as our common property, the Government of Japan has engaged in talks with Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), providing detailed information and data based on scientific evidence in order to ensure transparency, and has answered questions in a sincere manner.
In addition, we have carried out 5 sessions with the Pacific Island countries/regions and the PIF Secretariat, and 4 sessions with the PIF experts designated by the PIF Secretariat and have provided all necessary information and data requested by the PIF experts in a sincere and timely manner. The Government of Japan has continued to communicate to the PIF Secretariat and the Pacific Island countries/regions through various dialogue opportunities that it is ready to answer any questions regarding this matter at any time, and there will be no change in this approach in the future.
In fact, H.E. Mr. David W. PANUELO, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), who visited Japan this February stated that the FSM now has deep trust in Japan’s intentions and Japan’s technological capabilities in not harming our shared oceanic assets and resources.
Thirdly, in rebuttal to Dr. Khalid’s opinion that discharging water is the “least expensive’ but speedy solution,” Japanese experts have had comprehensive discussions on this matter for more than six years in the Tritium Water Task Force and the Subcommittee on the Handling of ALPS treated Water (the ALPS Subcommittee).
In February 2020, the ALPS Subcommittee issued its report. The report concluded that the discharge into the sea “can be more reliably implemented because it is commonly practiced in nuclear power plants around the world, the safety of the discharge facilities has been demonstrated, and the discharge into the sea can be most accurately monitored.”
The ALPS Subcommittee’s report was reviewed by the IAEA in April of the same year, which noted that “the recommendations made by the ALPS Subcommittee were based on a sufficiently comprehensive analysis and on a sound scientific and technical basis” and that the discharge into the sea is “technically feasible”.
To conclude, twelve years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the reconstruction of Fukushima is still on its way. The spread of false information and reputational damage that Dr. Khalid’s article is likely to cause wounds to deepen and prolong the suffering of the local people, who have already experienced unimaginable pain. I hope this article helps readers’ correct understanding of ALPS-treated water and Japan’s sincere efforts for safety, health, and the environment.

The writer is the Minister/Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan in Pakistan.

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