IWAKI, Japan — In a lab on the third floor of a nondescript building here, a group of volunteers pour water from plastic canisters through filters into large round-bottomed vessels. Others grind up dried fish and other foods and put them in small blenders the size of a coffee bean grinder.
These people are not trained scientists. It is mothers who worry about their children’s legacy after the decision was made to dump treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.
The phased discharge of an estimated 1.3 million tons of sewage began Thursday after repeated assurances from the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory body, that it was safe.
But about 40 miles away, at the lab testing water samples taken from the shore near the facility, lab director Ai Kimura said she was worried the discharge would destroy the ecosystem in the area on Japan’s central east coast could.
“I’m concerned about the negative legacy, which is contamination,” Kimura, 44, told NBC News on Thursday, adding that it was a “negative legacy for our children.”
The released water, enough to fill 500 Olympic-size swimming pools still under construction, is being used to cool the fuel rods in the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant since a 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown triggered the release of radioactive particles into the air in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 in what was then the Soviet Union.
Although the water is filtered and diluted to remove most of the radioactive elements, it still contains small amounts of tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to remove.
The Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), have said the water they say will be released over the next 30 to 40 years and is stored in hundreds of tanks on land is being removed to prevent accidental leaks and make room for the plant to be decommissioned more than a decade after the disaster.
Tepco, which has been accused of a lack of transparency in the past, has promised to put safety first and halt discharges if problems arise.
Shortly after the first cargo of water was discharged from Fukushima on Thursday, the IAEA said its on-site analysis confirmed tritium levels were “well below” the operational limit.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Friday that the United States is also pleased with Japan’s “safe, transparent and science-based process.”
Still, there have been vocal objections from neighboring countries, including China, where customs officials announced an immediate ban on all imports of Japanese “aquatic products,” including seafood, to “comprehensively guard against the risk of radioactive contamination of food safety from nuclear weapons.” contaminated water is discharged.”
Although the South Korean government reiterated this week that it sees no scientific or technical problem with the water’s release, the country’s police on Thursday arrested 16 protesters accused of trying to break into the Japanese embassy in the capital Seoul.
But acc Data published online According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, water with much higher levels of tritium has been discharged from nuclear power plants in countries such as China, South Korea, Canada and France, in line with local regulations.
In the area around the Fukushima power plant, the impact of the disaster is eerily clear. Three miles away, in the town of Futaba, many of the abandoned houses look as if they haven’t been touched since the day of the earthquake.
Curtains flutter through broken windows, pictures and clocks still hang on the walls, and debris is strewn everywhere. Cars and bikes are covered in dust.
Back at the lab, which operates as a non-profit organization called Tarachin and funds its state-of-the-art equipment with donations, Kimura said his tests confirmed that radiation levels in farm produce and the sea in the accident area had gradually decreased.
However, she said she fears the discharge could ruin the promising future of that region’s ecosystem.
“If the treated water is discharged again, we believe the same tragedy of 12 years ago will repeat itself,” she said.
Janis Mackey Frayer reported from Fukushima and Larissa Gao from Hong Kong.