Discover more from All Facts Matter
Who's Misinforming Whom?
Lost In The Narratives About Fukushima Are, As Always, The Facts
Apparently, China, the country that can’t bail out a corrupt developer to save its economy, is an absolute wizard with media and propaganda management.
How else to explain The Japan Times sardonic praise of China’s “media strategy” regarding Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings decision to release wastewater from the ruined Fukushima nuclear reactor site into the Pacific Ocean?
China's media strategy is something truly to behold.
It is as if the Chinese government is testing the world’s tolerance for aggressive narratives and disinformation. Take when, in April 2021, then Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao posted an image on Twitter based on Hokusai’s famous woodblock print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” The image had been altered to show nuclear workers jettisoning radioactive materials into the sea. Zhao claimed that his post "reflects Chinese people's concern and dissatisfaction with the Japanese government's unilateral decision" to release treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Bear in mind, that when Japan says “treated water”, it means “still contaminated with radioactive materials tritium and carbon-14”. However, we are assured, this contaminated water is still “safe” to release—The Japan Times says so, and faults China for not believing them.
As Chinese leaders know fully well, the accumulated water is purified to make it safe to discharge. The filtering advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS, drastically reduces all radionuclides except two, one being tritium, a weak radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Discharging tritiated water is a widely established practice in nuclear power stations around the world, including in China.
Do Chinese leaders know that fully well? For that matter, do Japanese leaders know that fully well. How much reliance can we place on the assertions of experts that the water is “safe”?
Perhaps not as much as those “experts” want you to believe.
All Facts Matter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Alternatively, please consider making a donation via Ko-Fi. Thank you always for your support!
Lost in the narrative used by The Japan Times is the reality that when the discharge plan was first proposed in October, 2020, it was met with more than a little resistance.
The idea to release the stored water has been met by strong disapproval from environmentalists. Farmers and fishermen have also come out against the idea, saying people will continue to reject eating seafood and produce from the region. They said it would undo years of work to repair the region's reputation.
Fishery representatives visited Kajiyama on Thursday to express their displeasure for a potential release of the water.
It wasn’t merely China that has had an issue with the water release proposal. Even Japanese farmers and fisherman around Fukushima have from the first time this project was proposed been vehemently opposed to the proposal.
Were the Japanese fisherman also deploying a media strategy that is “truly something to behold”?
Or has the media strategy been deployed by Japan, instead?
Has Korea been deploying a “media strategy” in its opposition to the wastewater release from Fukushima?
Korean government officials expressed "strong regret." One said the government is putting the safety of Koreans first and "take all necessary measures" to get Japan to share information about the released water.
The Foreign Ministry here summoned Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi to lodge a formal protest.
Has The Japan Times forgotten that, even by April of 2021, the exact amount of radioactive material in the “treated” water that would be released was still unknown? Or that then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga promised to “prevent damaging rumors” from spreading regarding the release?
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said ocean release was the most realistic option and that disposing the water is unavoidable for the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which is expected to take decades. He also pledged the government would work to ensure the safety of the water and to prevent damaging rumors on local agriculture, fisheries and tourism.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release.
Some scientists say the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown. The government stresses the safety of the water by calling it “treated" not "radioactive” even though radionuclides can only be reduced to disposable levels, not to zero.
The amount of radioactive materials that would remain in the water is also still unknown. Under the basic plan adopted Tuesday by the ministers, TEPCO will start releasing the water in about two years after building a facility and compiling release plans adhering to safety requirements.
TEPCO cannot remove all the radionuclides, and the amount of tritium that would remain in the treated wastewater was an unknown at that time. Yet both TEPCO and the Japanese government have offered repeated assurances that the release would be “safe”?
How would they know? On what basis can they make that conclusion?
The two radionuclides TEPCO cannot remove are carbon-14 and tritium. Presumably, the concentrations of these two isotopes is extremely low, but they are still there, in every ton of water set to be released.
The contaminated water has been collected, treated to reduce the radioactive content and stored in more than 1,000 stainless steel tanks at the site. The power-station operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), so far has used what it describes as an advanced liquid-processing system (ALPS) to treat the water. TEPCO says the water undergoes five processing stages of co-sedimentation, adsorption and physical filtration. The plan for disposing of the radioactive waste created in the ALPS process will be “gradually revealed as the decommissioning process progresses”, according to communication the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The ALPS process removes enough of 62 of the 64 radionuclides to bring their concentration below Japan’s 2022 regulatory limits for water to be discharged into the environment. These limits are based on recommendations from the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
But that process does not remove carbon-14 and tritium, so the treated water needs to be diluted further to less than one part per 100 parts of seawater. TEPCO says that the resulting concentration of tritium is around 1,500 becquerels (a measure of the radioactivity of a substance) per litre — around one-seventh of the World Health Organization’s guidelines for tritium in drinking water. The company suggests that the concentration of tritium will drop to background ocean levels within a few kilometres of the discharge site. The carbon-14 in the tanks is currently at concentrations of around 2% of the upper limit set by regulations, TEPCO says, and this will reduce further with the seawater dilution that takes place before the water is discharged.
Has TEPCO mitigated all the risks? No. Numerous scientists and nuclear experts have admitted the risks of releasing radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean is not zero—however slight it may be, some risk remains.
Jim Smith, an environmental scientist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, says the risk this poses to nations around the Pacific Ocean will probably be negligible. “I always hesitate to say zero, but close to zero,” he says. “The nearest Pacific island is about 2,000 kilometres away.” He argues that a greater risk is posed by keeping the treated water on-site. “The risk of another earthquake or a typhoon causing a leak of a tank is higher, and they’re running out of space.”
The best that has been proffered is that the International Atomic Energy Agency has said the release is within their rules.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, in a video message, said the ocean discharge was in line with international practice, though “the large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.”
He said the IAEA will support Japan in environmental monitoring “before, during and after the discharge.”
How reliable a safety standard is “everyone else does it”?
Is it just a “media strategy” when South Korea, Philippines and the United States all assert a fundamental lack of adequate data on the consequences of the release plan?
Nations such as South Korea have expressed concern that the treated water could have unexplored impacts on the ocean environment, and a delegation from the country visited the Fukushima site in May. Last year, the US National Association of Marine Laboratories in Herndon, Virginia, also voiced its opposition to the planned release, saying that there was “a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data supporting Japan’s assertion of safety”. The Philippine government has also called for Japan to reconsider releasing the water into the Pacific.
“Have the people promoting this going forward — ALPS treatment of the water and then release into the ocean — demonstrated to our satisfaction that it will be safe for ocean health and human health?” asks Robert Richmond, marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “The answer is ‘no’.”
Is it a “media strategy” for people to be concerned that the answer to multiple safety questions regarding the release appears to be “I do not know”? Or that the long-term impacts of these radionuclides in ocean life has yet to be studied, much less understood?
TEPCO says fishing is not routinely conducted in an area within 3 kilometres of where the pipeline will discharge the water. But Richmond is concerned the tritium could concentrate in the food web as larger organisms eat smaller contaminated ones. “The concept of dilution as the solution to pollution has demonstrably been shown to be false,” Richmond says. “The very chemistry of dilution is undercut by the biology of the ocean.”
Shigeyoshi Otosaka, an oceanographer and marine chemist at the Atmospheric and Ocean Research Institute of the University of Tokyo says that the organically bound form of tritium could accumulate in fish and marine organisms. He says international research is investigating the potential for such bioaccumulation of the radionuclides in marine life, and what has already happened in the waters around Fukushima after the accidental release of contaminated water during the tsunami. “I think it is important to evaluate the long-term environmental impact of these radionuclides,” Otosaka says.
It should be mentioned that the release of tritium into the ocean is done by nuclear facilities around the world.
Smith points out that releasing tritium-contaminated water is part of the usual operating procedure for nuclear power plants. He says that both the Heysham nuclear power station and Sellafield nuclear-fuel-processing plant in the United Kingdom release between 400 and 2,000 terabecquerels of tritium into the ocean each year. “Overall, because it’s such a weak β-emitter, it’s not really that radiotoxic,” Smith says.
Otosaka says that is also the case in Japan: “More than 50 terabecquerel of tritium was discharged annually from each nuclear power plant in regular operation before the accident,” he says. TEPCO says that less than 22 terabecquerels of tritium will be released from the pipeline each year. “The release rate of the tritium … is well controllable,” Otosaka says.
TEPCO says there will be continuous monitoring of sea life and sediments around the area, which will be done by TEPCO, the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority and the IAEA.
Yet is it really a plausible safety argument to say “we’ve always done it that way”?
How should we approach the question posed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian:
After the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission of South Korea expressed regrets over Japan's radiological impact assessment of the release of Fukushima wastewater into the ocean, the Chinese Foreign Ministry asked Japan why it would not release the nuclear-contaminated wastewater into its own lakes if it believes the water is harmless.
"Is the discharge of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant really inevitable, or is Japan just going its own way for its selfish interests? If the nuclear-contaminated water is harmless, why wouldn't Japan release it into its own lakes? Japan, please answer the question," Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at Friday's media briefing.
If the “treated” water is safe, why doesn’t Japan release the water into its own lakes and rivers? While the water being released is also being diluted with sea water, the water could be desalinated to prevent upsetting the mineral and/or pH balances of Japan’s fresh water sources.
Of course, even if the wastewater was released into lakes and rivers instead of the ocean, the natural flow of water to the ocean means the tritium and carbon-14 would wind up in the Pacific Ocean regardless, but as Fukushima is a Japanese nuclear reactor site, and was damaged because of mistakes in planning and preparation by a Japanese company, TEPCO, is it not simple fairness that the environmental burden of disposing of the wastewater be borne principally by Japan, and not by other nations?
South Korean opposition lawmakers sharply criticized the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog on Sunday for its approval of Japanese plans to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
They met with Rafael Grossi in a tense meeting in Seoul that took place while protesters screamed outside the door.
Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, arrived in South Korea over the weekend to engage with government officials and critics and help reduce public concerns about food safety.
More than 100 fishermen and locals living near Fukushima will file a lawsuit this week seeking to stop the release of wastewater from the stricken Japanese nuclear plant, they said Monday.
Twelve years after one of the world's worst nuclear accidents, Japan began on August 24 discharging treated cooling water diluted with seawater into the Pacific, insisting it was safe.
Many Japanese fishermen have been against the release, fearing that it will undo years of efforts to improve the industry's image in the wake of the 2011 catastrophe.
The more than 100 plaintiffs in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures will file the lawsuit in the Fukushima District Court on Friday, Sugie Tanji, a member of the group's secretariat, told AFP.
While companies like Meta can grab headlines by claiming to disrupt “a significant disinformation campaign linked to Chinese law enforcement”, the mere fact that the Chinese government engages in propaganda techniques does not automatically make every challenge by Chinese officials to the environmental policies of other nations merely “media strategy”.
Quite the contrary, the public posturings of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who recently made a public spectacle of eating sashimi from Fukushima Prefecture to show that Japan’s fishing industry was still “safe”, is the actual example of a “media strategy”.
Japan‘s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and three Cabinet ministers ate Fukushima fish sashimi at a lunch meeting Wednesday, in an apparent effort to show that fish is safe following the release of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that began last week.
Kishida and the three ministers had sashimi of flounder, octopus and sea bass, caught off the Fukushima coast after the water release, along with vegetables, fruits and a bowl of rice that were harvested in the prefecture, Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who was at the meeting, told reporters.
Such public displays provide exactly zero evidence that the fish is actually safe to eat. They merely prove that the Japanese Prime Minister thinks it is safe, or at least “safe enough”. For his sake let us hope he is right, but simply eating fish does not disprove the existence or potential for unsafe levels of radioactive contamination in Japanese fish, either now or in the future.
Despite all the posturings of government officials, despite all the propagandizing of outlets such as The Japan Times, there are scientists who are of the opinion that not enough is known about the long-term impacts of this wastewater release, which makes the release inherently dangerous.
Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to radionuclides is unknown and the release should be delayed. Others say the release plan is safe but call for more transparency, including allowing outside scientists to join in sampling and monitoring the release.
Even if the plan itself is nominally “safe”, what happens if there is a mishap during the release, and a greater amount of tritium and carbon-14 is released into the Pacific than planned? What if the treatment processes malfunction, and more radionuclides besides tritium and carbon-14 are released into the Pacific?
The safety level of any plan for any project inherently presumes the plan being followed without failure and without exception. What happens when the plan fails and there is an exception?
It may very well be that TEPCO has no good alternatives but to release the wastewater into the ocean. It may be true that the space at Fukushima currently occupied by wastewater storage tanks needs to be cleared so the decommissioning of the facility can proceed.
Yet even if such things are true, that does not make the wastewater release a “good” option, or even a “safe” one. That does not make expressions of concerns by China, or South Korea, or anyone else a cynical “media strategy”.
Japan is pumping millions of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Japan claims this water is “safe” and that there will be no long-term impacts. I hope they’re right, because there will be no unringing the bell, no undoing the damage, if we find out a few years from now they are wrong.