Guam's marine scientist says impacts of Fukushima water release 'aren't well understood’
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Dr. Laurie Raymundo is a professor of marine biology and director of the Marine Lab at the University of Guam. She is a coral biologist, interested in the impacts of human stressors on corals and coral reefs.
Raymundo began her career in the Philippines, documenting the impacts of dynamite blasting and severe overfishing on coral reefs, while witnessing the establishment of some of the most successful Marine Protected Areas in the world.
She has published more than a dozen research studies including “Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change in Guam (2016),” “Unprecedented Coral Bleaching Across the Marianas Archipelago (2014),” and “The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of Guam (2005),” among others.
We asked Dr. Raymundo to chime in to the discussion on Japan’s controversial move to commence the discharge of ALPS-treated water from the crippled Fukushima power station.
Pacific Island Times: As a marine scientist, how do you feel about the Japanese government’s decision to start releasing the power plant wastewater?
Laurie Raymundo: Japan is seemingly caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" on this one—it cannot continue to use increasing amounts of land to store wastewater and continue to risk damage to those storage tanks from natural disasters. And the negative impacts of releasing wastewater into the ocean are not completely understood.
PIT: Do you think it was a hasty decision?
LR: I don't think so. The accident happened in 2011. That was 13 years ago. The International Atomic Agency and the UN are both in discussion with Japan and have been for some time. Dilution and treatment of contaminated water have been going on for over a decade, as far as I have read.
PIT: What is the potential impact of this action?
Well, the major concern of some scientists is that impacts aren't well understood. All of the dangerous radioactive waste compounds have been treated to be rendered safe, with the exception of tritium.
Tritium has been diluted; hence, the accumulation of large quantities of waste water. And according to the Japanese government, the levels of tritium in this wastewater are far below the minimal accepted amounts declared by the World Health Organization.
So, in theory, there should be no problem with the slow release of this water into the Pacific Ocean. However, some scientists argue that we do not really know what the impact of tritium release will be on marine organisms and whether or not that will magnify up the food chain.
PIT: How will this affect Guam’s and the Pacific region’s marine resources?
LR: At this time, the effect may be negligible. We are upstream, in a way, of the release site, so it would have to circulate a bit to get back to us. But as I said above, there is some level of uncertainty about that.
PIT: How will any impact last?
LR: The half-life of tritium is short -12.3 years. It will take 30 years to release this wastewater, so much of the tritium will be broken down by the end of this release time.
PIT: Is ALPS a reliable method of treatment?
LR: I do not know enough about this process to comment on that. It seems that it is a fairly common practice.
PIT: What other methods of treatment are available?
LR: It depends on what you're referring to. Apparently, in the case of Fukushima, all radioactive waste, with the exception of tritium, has been treated, probably using the ALPS process, but I don't know that for sure. Tritium is the only one that we have no technology to treat. Hence, dilution is their method of choice.