What Are the Risks of Radioactive Wastewater Release – the Next of Which Is October 5th – from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant?

A fisherman in Ōkuma, Japan, fishes from a sea wall built after the tsunami in 2011 led to meltdown of the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. PHOTO: ONAS GRATZER/LIGHTROCKET

Wastewater release from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan is expected to have negligible effects on people and the ocean, Jim Smith and colleagues report in a Perspective. The planned releases of radioactive wastewater, 350 million gallons of which has been stored at the site since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima plant’s meltdown, began in August 2023 and are expected to continue for perhaps the next 30 years. The second release is scheduled to start on October 5th.

While the scheduled releases have sparked international concern, Smith et al. discuss the science behind the risks and show that the amounts of radiation in the planned discharges are being kept well below radiation safety limits and are less than those in existing wastewater releases that are standard practice from other nuclear facilities worldwide.

Moreover, the predicted annual radiation doses from the Fukushima releases to local seafood consumers are magnitudes smaller than exposure to natural radiation or other common radiation sources, like medical x-rays or long-distance commercial flights. Smith et al. also review research on the effect of radioactive pollution on marine ecosystems. Studies in lakes near Chernobyl – which host radiation dose rates more than 1000 times higher than those expected from Fukushima discharges – show that aquatic ecosystems are surprisingly resilient to radioactive pollution.

“The radiation protection science is clear that the Fukushima wastewater release presents no real threat to the organisms of the Pacific Ocean or to Fukushima’s seafood consumers if carried out as planned,” write the authors.

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