An Associated Press story made the rounds this week quoting various experts regarding potential tritium dumping at Fukushima Daiichi. Some of these expert statements are giving the public a misleading understanding of the situation and the risks.
One statement by NRC head Shunichi Tanaka claimed that “Tritium is so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping,”
This is a deceptive statement, though maybe not intentionally so by Tanaka. Tritium is a beta emitter and beta emitters are not able to penetrate various materials like plastic. That doesn’t make them not dangerous. Beta radiation exposure from certain isotopes can cause beta burns to the skin. Tritium’s risk is not generally from an external exposure but as an internal exposure. Tritium in drinking water and food sources are considered to be the highest risk exposure route.
The amount of tritium considered for potential release would be about 3.4 peta becquerels. This is a large amount of potential contamination to dump into the sea. Little has been studied on the impact this release would have on fish and plant species used for food. These releases are also not a done deal. Various tritium removal technologies are in test phases at Fukushima Daiichi including one by Kurion and another by Rosatom. It would be cheaper and easier to convince the public to look the other way on sea dumping and contamination of the food supply than to build and operate the filtration systems needed to remove tritium. Money should never be the only concern.
Some more usable information on the risks of tritium can be found in this NIRS paper.
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