Japan prepares for release of tritium from Fukushima plant

April 12, 2016 by By Yuri Kageyama
This March 11, 2016 file photo shows the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. To dump or not to dump a little-discussed substance is the question brewing in Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima five years ago. The substance is tritium. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

To dump or not to dump a little-discussed substance is the question brewing in Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima five years ago. The substance is tritium.

The radioactive material is nearly impossible to remove from the huge quantities of water used to cool melted-down reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which was wrecked by the massive tsunami in northeastern Japan in March 2011.

The water is still accumulating since 300 tons are needed every day to keep the reactors chilled. Some is leaking into the ocean.

Huge tanks lined up around the plant, at last count 1,000 of them, each hold hundreds of tons of water that have been cleansed of radioactive cesium and strontium but not of tritium.

Ridding water of tritium has been carried out in laboratories. But it's an effort that would be extremely costly at the scale required for the Fukushima plant, which sits on the Pacific coast. Many scientists argue it isn't worth it and say the risks of dumping the tritium-laced water into the sea are minimal.

Their calls to simply release the water into the Pacific Ocean are alarming many in Japan and elsewhere.

Rosa Yang, a nuclear expert at the Electric Power Research Institute, based in Palo Alto, California, who advises Japan on decommissioning reactors, believes the public angst is uncalled for. She says a Japanese government official should simply get up in public and drink water from one of the tanks to convince people it's safe.

In this Feb. 10, 2016 file photo, a worker, wearing protective suits and masks, takes notes in front of storage tanks for radioactive water at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. To dump or not to dump a little-discussed substance is the question brewing in Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima five years ago. The substance is tritium. (Toru Hanai/Pool Photo via AP)

But the line between safe and unsafe radiation is murky, and children are more susceptible to radiation-linked illness. Tritium goes directly into soft tissues and organs of the human body, potentially increasing the risks of cancer and other sicknesses.

"Any exposure to tritium radiation could pose some health risk. This risk increases with prolonged exposure, and health risks include increased occurrence of cancer," said Robert Daguillard, a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency is trying to minimize the tritium from U.S. nuclear facilities that escapes into drinking water.

Right after the March 2011 disaster, many in Japan panicked, some even moving overseas although they lived hundreds of miles (kilometers) away from the Fukushima no-go zone. By now, concern has settled to the extent that some worry the lessons from the disaster are being forgotten.

In this Nov. 12, 2011 file photo, the Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan, when the media were allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time since the March 11 disaster. To dump or not to dump a little-discussed substance is the question brewing in Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima five years ago. The substance is tritium. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool, File)

Tritium may be the least of Japan's worries. Much hazardous work remains to keep the plant stabilized, and new technology is needed for decommissioning the plant's reactors and containing massive radioactive contamination.

The ranks of Japan's anti-nuclear activists have been growing since the March 2011 accident, and many oppose releasing water with tritium into the sea. They argue that even if tritium's radiation is weaker than strontium or cesium, it should be removed, and that good methods should be devised to do that.

Japan's fisheries organization has repeatedly expressed concerns over the issue. News of a release of the water could devastate local fisheries just as communities in northeastern Japan struggle to recover from the 2011 disasters.

An isotope of hydrogen, or radioactive hydrogen, tritium exists in water form, and so like water can evaporate, although it is not known how much tritium escaped into the atmosphere from Fukushima as gas from explosions.

In this Nov. 12, 2011 file photo, the Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan, when the media was allowed into the tsunami-damaged plant for the first time. To dump or not to dump a little-discussed substance is the question brewing in Japan as it grapples with the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima five years ago. The substance is tritium. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool, File)

The amount of tritium in the contaminated water stored at Fukushima Dai-ichi is estimated at 3.4 peta becquerels, or 34 with a mind-boggling 14 zeros after it.

But theoretically collected in one place, it would amount to just 57 milliliters, or about the amount of liquid in a couple of espresso cups—a minuscule quantity in the overall masses of water.

To illustrate that point, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, showed reporters a small bottle half-filled with blue water that was the equivalent of 57 milliliters.

Public distrust is running so high after the Fukushima accident that Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, the utility that operates the Fukushima plant and oversees its decommissioning, has mostly kept quiet about the tritium, pending a political decision on releasing the water.

Privately, they say it will have to be released, but they can't say that outright.

What will be released from Fukushima will be well below the global standard allowed for tritium in the water, say Tanaka and others favoring its release, which is likely to come gradually later this year, not all at once.

Proponents of releasing the tritium water argue that tritium already is in the natural environment, coming from the sun and from water containing tritium that is routinely released at nuclear plants around the world.

"Tritium is so weak in its radioactivity it won't penetrate plastic wrapping," said Tanaka.

Explore further: Fukushima dumps first batch of once-radioactive water in sea

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20 comments

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gkam
1.3 / 5 (12) Apr 12, 2016
Hey, it's not dangerous, that's why they kept it separated from living things.

Let the directors and managers and owners of TEPCO drink it.

Serve it to nuclear apologists.

Send it to the IAEA for consumption. They made it, it's theirs.

No problems like that with solar or wind power.
WillieWard
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 12, 2016
it's not dangerous
tritium is sold on ebay.
"Tritium illumination is the use of gaseous tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, to create visible light. Tritium emits electrons through beta decay..."
"While these devices contain a radioactive substance, it is currently believed that self-powered lighting does not pose a significant health concern. "
https://en.wikipe...mination
gkam
1 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2016
Drink up, Willie and Ira.

It's GOOD for you!
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2016
Drink up, Willie and Ira.

It's GOOD for you!
You already drink it georgie.

"High in the atmosphere cosmic rays produce four million curies worth of tritium each year. This atmospheric tritium rains out into surface waters... In fact, everyone drinks tritiated water. "People are exposed to small amounts of tritium every day, since it is widely dispersed in the environment and in the food chain," as the EPA notes in its public information on the radionuclide."

-George kamburoff implies he knows something about the subject but the facts prove he doesn't, as usual.

And no, george, standing in a reactor control room doesn't make you an expert.

Claiming that fallout is the main cause of lung cancer proves that you arent, and further lies like the one above only confirm it.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 12, 2016
Give it up, otto. Your pique at me has turned into an unhealthy fixation.

Just keep it down to dreaming of me at night, okay?
Captain Stumpy
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2016
No problems like that with solar or wind power
@gkam
yeah... here is a doc that proves just how much safer wind and solar are than nuke power overall
just read the first page
http://physics.ke...re15.pdf

oh wait... that doc shows that you're talking out your fearmongering buttocks and are not informed enough to discuss the subject without interjecting your opinion based false claims regarding the science and statistics!
imagine that

I wonder what an actual scientist would say about nukes?
oh wait! they would be informed and make decisions not based upon emotions! like this:

https://www.youtu...yv9arXqU

https://www.youtu...xY-wOrI8

https://www.youtu...rcdMiIGs

https://www.youtu...Zm8XO7Zc

TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2016
So why would you imply that drinking water with tritium in it is dangerous if you are aware that you have been drinking it your whole life?

Why would george kamburoff choose to lie like that?
Give it up, otto. Your pique at me has turned into an unhealthy fixation
What, you think ignoring lies and liars is a healthy thing?
Just keep it down to dreaming of me at night, okay?
I dream of the day when psychopaths are identified and restricted like pedophiles now are.

Both endanger society. But unlike pedos, psychopaths endanger everybody.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2016
This is really funny. Grumpy has become like the Republican Congress, automatically going the reverse of any position I take, with both knees jerking at once.

Is he aware of the high respect we all have for the Republican Congress?

Meanwhile, he can ask for a boatload of Japanese Tritium for himself.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2016
"So why would you imply that drinking water with tritium in it is dangerous if you are aware that you have been drinking it your whole life?"
------------------------------------

That is a really stupid question. Your water also contains other toxins, but in the same low concentrations it is not generally harmful. How about we increase those like you want to increase Tritium? Would that get it across to you?

Take first-day Chemistry, for god's sake.
Captain Stumpy
4.5 / 5 (8) Apr 12, 2016
Grumpy
@liar-kam
Let's stop with the personal attacks, character assassination and sniping without validation or links/evidence
automatically going the reverse of any position I take
nope
only when you blatantly lie, like above
or when you can't actually provide evidence for a claim, like above
or get all emo about a situation, like above
both knees jerking at once
Let's stop with the personal attacks, character assassination and sniping without validation or links/evidence
Is he aware of the high respect we all have for the Republican Congress?
who gives a sh*t? i don't like them at all because they're politicians and politicians lie
science, however, is evidence based, and therefore requires proof, not emo ranting to "stop the waterfalls leaking"

so quit with the personal stupidity

Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (6) Apr 12, 2016
Meanwhile, he can ask for a boatload of Japanese Tritium for himself.
You didn't even read the article, did you Cher? How he is going to ask for a boatload of it when they only have about 1/2 a soda can's worth of it total?
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (8) Apr 12, 2016
You didn't even read the article, did you Cher?
@IRa
nope, he didn't.
he saw the words "Japan" and "tritium from Fukushima" and went haywire
(i know that's hard to believe, with him being an engineer with such a high degree of factual information at hand to prove his comments and all... yeah... that's hyperbole and satirical)

then he tried to suck up with something about republicans?
as though everyone were one...(WTF?)

i mean.... i am not one, but i'm also not a dem, tea, or anything else....so what in the holy h*ll was he going on about there?

i wonder if that was his way of attempting apology for calling all soldiers in the gulf wars mass murderers?

maybe he should read this link: http://phys.org/n...nce.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (8) Apr 12, 2016
That is a really stupid question. Your water also contains other toxins, but in the same low concentrations it is not generally harmful. How about we increase those like you want to increase Tritium? Would that get it across to you?
More lies. Ira just pointed it out. The release would not increase the concentration.
Take first-day Chemistry, for god's sake
You think acting pompous makes your lies true?

It only makes george kamburoff look more like a psychopath.

Hey - have you done a Web search for george kamburoff lately?
gkam
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2016
"I wonder what an actual scientist would say about nukes?"
----------------------------------

Ask what the parents of the Children of Chernobyl would say about nukes.
Captain Stumpy
3.9 / 5 (7) Apr 12, 2016
Ask what the parents of the Children
@liar-kam
so, you can't produce evidence?
your tactic is to appeal to the fear and potential for pain?

does that mean you have stopped flying and will fight to repeal airplanes from society too?
they're more dangerous than couch-sitting!

what about driving?
you gonna fight to ban cars because they're not the safest way to get around?

are you going to advocate for banning hospitals too because doctors have been known to make mistakes and kill patients?
little gina lost the wrong foot and was misdiagnosed by one stupid accident so lets ask her!
surely that makes more sense than looking at the overall statistics and the good!

f*ck reality, right g?
why bother with reality when you can appeal to emotions with fearmongering slogans!

ban all hospitals
ban all hospitals

(hyperbole intended)
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (7) Apr 12, 2016
"I wonder what an actual scientist would say about nukes?"
----------------------------------

Ask what the parents of the Children of Chernobyl would say about nukes
Luckily they're not reading the lies george kamburoff is posting.

Notice how george kamburoff ignores inquiries as to his neurotic avoidance of the quote button?

What is it about the quote button that george kamburoff is terrified of?
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Apr 17, 2016
Your water also contains other toxins, but in the same low concentrations it is not generally harmful.


That's exactly the point. Adding a drinking cup of T2O into the _Pacific Ocean_ isn't going to do anything.

And it's got a 12 year half-live so it won't even stick around for long.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2016
Some trivia about tritium.

Half-life 12.3 years
decays into helium
Beta (electron) emitter with an energy of 18 keV which is split between a neutrino and an electron with an average energy of 5.7 keV which compares to x-ray photon energy. The neutrino is weakly interacting and just flies through everything.

Technically speaking though, you get greater ionization potentials from static electricity, and in practice the radiation from Tritium is blocked by approximately 1/4" of air. That's why it's difficult to even detect from water samples because you can't find it with any sort of geiger counter - both the electron radiation and the secondary x-ray radiation from electron braking are so weak they get absorbed within 100 micrometers of water.

And that's why it's considered generally safe to use in products. It also has a biological half-life of about two weeks, because deuterium or tritium water stops cell division, and it gets treated as a waste product.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2016
So because the cells, their enzymes and proteins don't work with deuterium or tritium instead of ordinary hydrogen because tritium changes the solvent properties of water, the tritium atoms can't accumulate in the body - they can't take on a biological role and stay in the body, unlike for example strontium which can replace calcium in bones.

So you basically piss it out.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2016
Tritium is also one of the most expensive substances in the world. It costs about $30,000 per gram, and there's about 250 kilos of it in stockpiles worldwide. If you had a cupful of T2O water, you would have about a million dollars worth of tritium in your hands.

57 milliliters is also not a "couple espresso cups". 6 cl is roughly the size of a single shotglass. An espresso cup is almost twice as big.

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