Japan's ocean radiation dump causes global jitters

08:57, April 06, 2011      

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Japan's decision to dump massive amounts of radiation-contaminated water into the ocean from the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant on its northeastern coast has led to domestic protests and worldwide concerns, despite repeated assurances by the plant's operator that the water is harmless.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Monday began a five-day discharge of 11,500 tons of low-level radiated water into the Pacific Ocean, aimed at making room for the storage of some 60,000 tons of highly contaminated water from in and around its troubled No. 2 reactor, authorities and the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said.

"There was no choice but to take this step to prevent (more) highly radioactive water from spreading into the sea," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters Tuesday. "The fact that radioactive water is being deliberately dumped into the sea is very regrettable and one we are very sorry about."

TEPCO said the water released, measuring over 100 times the legal limit, would pose no immediate danger.

But the statement was met with harsh protests.

"We lost lots of loved ones, ships, ports, facilities, and on top of that we are suffering from marine damage," Tetsu Nozaki, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, said in a letter to TEPCO shown to the media.

"We strongly protest and urge you to stop dumping into the sea," it reads, according to a Bloomberg report.

From seawater samples collected Monday near the water intake of the No. 2 reactor, radioactive iodine-131 was detected to be 200,000 becquerels per cubic centimeter, 5 million times the legal limit, according to NHK.

The sample also showed levels of cesium-137 to be 1.1 million times the legal limit, it reported.

Gui Liming, a professor of radiation protection at the Department of Engineering Physics, Tsinghua University, called Japan's move irresponsible.

"Japan should be condemned for discharging hazardous water into the sea. They should have pumped the water into a tanker and stored it in there until it's safe for further treatment," Gui told the Global Times Tuesday.

People were still being kept in the dark about the actual danger, as Japan hadn't announced the specific radioactive substance, Gui noted, adding that some radioactive materials have a half-life of 30 years.

Japan set a limit Tuesday for acceptable iodine levels in seafood at 2,000 becquerels per kilogram, the same as for vegetables, as authorities reported that they had found unusually high levels of radioactive materials in fish caught about 80 kilometers from the plant, the Wall Street Journal reported.

As a result of contamination worries, seafood production and sales have dropped sharply in Japan, and prices of some aquatic products have doubled.

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Source: Global Times
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