Fukushima: radioactivity among workers, water release under control
by Angeline Tan

After the first three phases of the controlled release, no anomaly has been recorded in the ocean. But so far, the operation has only involved a very small amount of radioactive water. Incidents among cleanup workers are a reminder of the dangers associated with the decommissioning of the Fukushima reactors, which has not yet begun.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – A high level of radiation found in the nose of a person working at the cleanup of the nuclear power plant has brought the media spotlight back onto the ongoing operations at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, hit by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The incident concerns the heart of the plant, an operation that will last decades, and not the water used to cool the reactors, which Japan has been discharging into the sea since 24 August after a treatment that does not completely eliminate tritium residues, but whose levels are not worrisome according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Radioactive materials may have touched the worker's face on Monday as he took off a full-face mask after finishing his work, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco) said.

The employee has not experienced any adverse health effects and a full-body scan showed no internal contamination, but a full analysis will only be available next month, the company explained.

This is the second incident of its kind in a few weeks; workers were splashed with water containing radioactive materials in October and were hospitalised as a precaution.

It should also be noted that the most dangerous part of the cleanup operation – the removal of radioactive fuel and rubble from the three affected reactors – has yet to begin.

Meanwhile, the third stage of the release of cooling water, which began three months ago, ended on 20 November with a fourth set for next March.

At the end of this first phase, about 31,200 tonnes will have been released into the ocean, out of more than 1.3 million cubic metres of water stored at the location in over 1,000 large tanks. The operation should take years.

Despite reassurances about the water’s safety, Japan’s move sparked a negative reaction from China, South Korea, and North Korea.

Even though Chinees power plants dump large amounts of nuclear wastewater into the ocean every year without any control, Beijing continues to call Tokyo's decision "extremely selfish and irresponsible," and has banned Japanese seafood imports.

Testing of the water around Fukushima has not so far yielded any anomalies. Some critics accuse the IAEA of relying solely on data provided by the Japanese government and Tepco.

In fact, the IAEA is conducting its own testing together with other independent laboratories around the world and has promised to do so for thirty years.

In addition, Russia's own veterinary and phytosanitary watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, has stated that fish caught in the seas off Russia’s Far East coast since Japan began releasing wastewater into the ocean does not have excessive levels of radiation.

According to the Russian agency, specialists have analysed 443 samples of fish products with the level of radiation in them falling within the normal range.