51.1% of Fukushima residents "have no idea” about methods of treating tritiated water

1 October 2018

A survey of Fukushima residents jointly conducted by Fukushima-Minpo Co. and Fukushima Television Broadcasting Co. has found that 51.1% of respondents "have no idea” about how to dispose of tainted water treated but still containing tritium, a radioactive substance left after purification of water polluted by fallout from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The ratio exceeded the 48.9% who replied they "understand" the proposed methods of disposal, according to the 23rd survey on the awareness of such issues among residents in Fukushima Prefecture.

As for the suggested release of treated water into the ocean, 53.8% are opposed, almost triple the 17.1% who "support" it. Referring to ways of discussing the issue, 40% said the parties concerned "should exchange opinions further," suggesting concern at insufficient government explanations and the process of discussions so far.

Asked to what extent they understand the treatment methods, the greatest proportion of respondents, at 43.8%, said they "do not understand them well" while 7.3% "have no idea at all," adding up to a majority at 51.1%. In contrast, 10.8% "understand them well" and 38.1% "understand them to some extent" for a total of 48.9% on the positive side.

While the Nuclear Regulation Authority says the release of tritium-tainted water into the sea is the leading disposal option, public hearings were held at the end of August in Tomioka town and Koriyama city, both in Fukushima Prefecture, as well as in Tokyo to listen to the opinions of citizens.

The fact that radioactive substances other than tritium remain in treated water came to light right before the hearings. At each hearing, one participant after another expressed opposition to the proposed ocean release and criticized the way the central government is proceeding with the discussions.

■53.8% against, 17.1% in favor of ocean release
Regarding the release of tainted water into the sea, 53.8% are "opposed" to the method of discharging it after diluting radioactive content, or nearly three times the 17.1% of respondents who "support" it. Another 29.1% "have no idea," surpassing the ratio of those in favor. As to the advisability of ocean release, opinion was split even among those who understand the method of disposal, with 43.4% in favor and 50.0% against.

Based on the backlash against ocean release, a government subcommittee has indicated in connection with tritium removal that it is prepared to consider the possibility of long-term storage in tanks in addition to five options explained at the hearings: (1) injection into the geological formation, (2) ocean release, (3) release into the air as steam, (4) release into the air as hydrogen after reduction to hydrogen, and (5) underground burial.

■40.1% see need for more debate with parties concerned
Asked to pick one of three ideas about the future course of action, the largest proportion of respondents, at 40.1%, favored the suggestion that "opinions should be exchanged further with parties related to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industry and the tourism sector which are feared to be affected by reputation damage." Another 27.0% supported the proposal that "measures should be hammered out to revitalize relevant communities and industries in accordance with methods of disposal," followed by 12.6% who agreed to the idea that "specific measures to address reputation damage should be put into shape first of all."

Water containing tritium is kept in tanks in the compounds of the nuclear plant. Installation of additional tanks there is nearing its limitations in terms of space, threatening reactor decommissioning work and leading to the current examination of treatment methods.

On Sept. 28, Tokyo Electric Power announced the results of a survey showing that the density of radioactive substances other than tritium is in excess of legal standards for exhaust water in about 80% of some 890,000 tons of treated water stored in tanks. The utility reported at a government subcommittee meeting on Oct. 1 that it is considering purifying tainted water again to reduce the density below the standards before releasing it into the natural environment.

(Translated by Kyodo News)