By James Conca
In a news briefing in Tokyo earlier this week, Japan’s Minister of the Environment, Yoshiaki Harada, told reporters that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will have to dump radioactive water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plants into the Pacific Ocean.
Tanks of water at Fukushima that have been scrubbed of all radioactive materials except mildly radioactive tritium, and which can be slowly released to the ocean with no environmental harm. GETTY IMAGES
He went so far as to say it is “the only option”. Which is actually true.
They just don’t have any room left to store it. And storing it is the wrong strategy anyway. TEPCO has collected more than 250 million gallons of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting since the plant was destroyed by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
The funny thing is that putting this water in the ocean is actually the best way to handle it. And that’s because it’s contaminated mainly with tritium, the least radioactive, and least harmful, of all radioactive elements. All of the other radioactive elements have been removed from the water by chemical treatment and the amount of other elements in the water is relatively small and wouldn’t pose a hazard.
The Japanese government awaits a report from an expert panel before making a final decision, and quickly pointed out that Harada’s opinion was his alone and did not indicate a policy decision. TEPCO will abide by whatever the government decides.
Critics, like Greenpeace, weighed with the usual every-atom-is-dangerous and this water should be stored and treated forever. They don’t seem to understand the radiation or chemistry for tritium.
But few do.
Those of us who do understand have suggested slowly releasing the tritium-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean over about a ten-year period. The water is stored on-site in almost

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