Fukushima to release radioactive water into Pacific: What you need to know

Experts say the planned water release is 'reasonable' but Japan's neighbours say the decision is 'disappointing'.

Japan is about to release contaminated wastewater from its failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean because it's running out of storage space.

What you need to know

  • In 2011, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was destroyed by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

  • Having collected contaminated water for over 10 years, it now has enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

  • 62 radioactive substances have been removed, but the water still contains small amounts of tritium and carbon-14 which are hard to seperate.

  • 1 million metric tonnes of treated water will be released from the plant over 30 years.

Should I be worried?

The short answer is no, according to Japan. Due to the plant's treatment the radiation amount is close to undetectable and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded discharges will have a negligible radiological impact on humans or the environment.

However, the wastewater release is still causing anxiety amongst Japan's neighbours. Hong Kong has announced it will refuse to buy seafood from several locations near Fukushima.

🗣️What are they saying

Associate Professor Nigel Marks, Physics & Astronomy expert, Curtin University: “From a scientific point of view, it’s actually quite a reasonable thing to do. The problem with the release is that it sounds wrong. But it actually isn’t.”

Associate Professor Tony Hooker, Director of Radiation Research, University of Adelaide: "I think with the likely comprehensive, independent monitoring of the environment to occur around the release site of Fukushima, that this will hopefully alleviate some of the fear that has been generated around this issue.

Dave Sweeney, Australian Conservation Foundation: “The decision to dump this radioactive water in the ocean is deeply unpopular in coastal and fishing-dependent communities… The effect it will have on fish and other marine life, reefs and humans remains unknown.”

Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace East Asia: “Instead of engaging in an honest debate about this reality, the Japanese government has opted for a false solution – decades of deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment.”

It’s hard to believe, but…

  • If you ate seafood from close to the ocean release site for the rest of your life, the tritium radiation you’d absorb would be around the same as taking a bite from a banana.

  • France’s La Hague reprocessing plant released 10,000 TBq of tritium as liquid in 2021, while the Fukushima plant will annually release just 2.2 TBq.

Tanks of wastewater at Fukushima.
Japan will release 1 million metric tonnes of treated water over 30 years. Source: Getty

For more about the Fukushima nuclear disaster waste water issue read our interview with nuclear expert Dr Nigel Marks.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new weekly newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.

Banner reads 'What on Earth' with 'Subscribe to our new weekly newsletter' and a collage of images of australian natural wildlife.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter.