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How dangerous is Japan’s plan to release Fukushima tritium water into the sea?

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Japan’s plan to release more than one million tonnes of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean has raised concerns among its neighboring countries and the local seafood industry. The water contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and possibly other contaminants that could pose health and environmental risks. The plan has been approved by the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but opposed by China, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Pacific Islands Forum, as well as local fishermen and environmental groups. This report will analyze the potential impacts of the plan on the neighboring countries and the seafood industry, and the challenges and opportunities for addressing them.

What is tritium and why is it in the water?

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that has two extra neutrons in its nucleus. It is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays, and artificially in nuclear reactors and weapons. Tritium emits low-energy beta radiation, which can be blocked by a sheet of paper or human skin. However, if tritium is ingested or inhaled, it can enter the body and cause damage to cells and DNA, increasing the risk of cancer and genetic mutations.

The water at the Fukushima plant comes from the cooling process of the damaged reactors, which suffered a meltdown after a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The water is stored in tanks at the plant, but the space is running out. The water is treated by a system called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System), which removes most radioactive elements, such as cesium and strontium, but not tritium. Tritium is very difficult to remove from water because it bonds with oxygen to form tritiated water, which behaves like normal water. The only way to separate tritium from water is by using expensive and complex technologies, such as electrolysis or distillation.

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