Petition to Stop Japan Dumping Radioactive Water in Ocean Gains Over 183,000 Signatures

Japan is expected to announce plans to release hundreds of thousands of tons of leftover cooling water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the Pacific Ocean, prompting almost 200,000 people to sign a Greenpeace petition opposing them.

Japanese officials are expected to formally announce their decision tomorrow, according to Japanese news outlet NHK. The country's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is understood to be in support of the move.

The government has said it cannot put a decision off any longer because water storage capacity at the plant is beginning to run out. Newsweek has contacted the Japanese government for comment.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was the scene of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged it in 2011, knocking out crucial cooling systems.

The nuclear reactor units ended up partially melting due to excessive heat. Using water, engineers carried out months of cooling efforts by circulating it around the units and storing it in tanks afterwards.

The question of what to do with the water has been a topic of discussion for several years.

TEPCO, the Japanese electric utility company which operates the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is handling more than 1.2 million tons of radioactive water in around 1,000 storage tanks on site.

The water has been treated via a filtration process to remove contaminants and radioactivity, but one type of radioactive contaminant called tritium remains.

Tritium tends not to be harmful externally but can be a hazard if it is ingested into the body, such as through drinking.

A 2020 study published in the journal Nature states that tritium "requires large quantities to deliver significant radiation doses" and that environmental data on tritium after the Fukushima accident is limited as other contaminants were prioritized.

According to NHK, which cited unnamed sources, the plan would be for the government to continue reducing the radiation to below nationally-accepted levels before releasing the water in around two years' time.

But Japan's fishing industry, as well as environmentalists, are in opposition to discharging the water.

Greenpeace has launched a petition on the matter and as of Monday it had received around 184,000 signatures, the group said.

Kazue Suzuki from the climate change and energy division of Greenpeace Japan, said the government should instead vote to continue storing the water until technology improves.

Suzuki said in a statement: "The current regulation does not limit the total amount of radioactivity to be released and allows releasing too much only if it is diluted. Some of the radionuclides to be released have a lifespan of thousands or tens of thousands of years. The decision to release the contaminated water into the ocean will leave huge troubles for the future."

Fukushima nuclear plant
Contaminated water storage tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, February 2016. The tanks contain huge amounts of water, and the government is due to decide what to do with it shortly. Christopher Furlong/Getty