An interview in Japan given by Tokyo Electric Power Company Chairman Takashi Kawamura is causing a stir, as the chairman said the company is waiting for the government's approval to dump 777,000 tons of tritium-tainted water into the Pacific Ocean. While saying the company that owns the crippled Fukiushima Daiichi Nuclear Generating Station would wait for “support from the state” before dumping the water that is building up rapidly at the plant, Kawamura also said “the decision has already been made,” according to local media reports.
The interview has caused a backlash among local fisherman who have struggled to regain the trust of the international community. Many countries – reportedly up to 33 of them, including the European Union – have banned imports of seafood from the region since the March 2011 accident that crippled three of the six reactors at the plant.
The chairman has said that Tepco should have been dumping the water in gradual releases all along and that waiting six years to begin the process has created undue anxiety and misunderstanding. Tritium contaminated water is notoriously difficult to treat and has "historically" been dumped, as it is of marginal risk to public health, according to various reports.
In 2014, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry awarded a $10 million grant to Kurion, a company based in California, to develop technology that would remove tritium from water stored at the Fukushima plant. Previously, in September 2013, Kurion announced a breakthrough in the treatment of “the historically difficult to capture isotope with the introduction of its patent-pending Modular Defiltration System to decontaminate tritiated water.”
At the time, Kurion pointed out the problem. “Decontamination of tritium (T) is particularly problematic,” the company said. “It is a special form of hydrogen that forms tritiated water, which does not lend itself to removal by conventional technologies. This is because instead of the contaminant being carried along in water in suspended or dissolved form, the water molecule itself is modified. As a result, tritiated water is particularly difficult to treat and can spread easily if it escapes into the environment.”
In tritium-tainted water, the standard two hydrogen molecules associated with one oxygen model (the conventional molecular structure of water) has been changed to include one hydrogen molecule, one of oxygen and one of tritium.
“Historically, nuclear power plants were forced to release tritium into the environment because there was no method to remove it economically,” noted Kurion founder and President John Raymont.
At Fukushima Daiichi, the build up of treated water still tritium-tainted, continues to build up; it is now estimated to have accumulated to the point that the plant is running out of storage space for the 777,000 of water currently stored in 580 tanks.
The company also noted that the historic industrial response to tritium contaminated water was to remove “heavy water” for recycling back into nuclear reactors, a process that was “prohibitively expensive for use with light water reactors.” The company's system, as such, was a breakthrough in that it allowed for large scale recycling of reactor cooling water for light pressurized water reactors.
In March 2016, the company announced it had constructed a prototype “Modular Defiltration System” that was built for tritium removal in Richland, Washington. It had completed “an extensive cold and hot commissioning phase and is achieving design goals on scaling up its proven bench scale system.” The design combined electrolysis and catalytic exchange systems that had been used to treat heavy water in such reactors as the Candu model. In the new system, “the tritiated water is fed into an electrolyzer, where it is cracked into gaseous oxygen and hydrogen streams. Both streams are cleansed of all contaminants, leaving only pure oxygen and pure hydrogen and tritium,” the World Nuclear Association reported.
At that point, the tritium was to be extracted and shipped to a processing plant “for either recovery or disposal.”
The company, meanwhile, touted the system as one that could be used to treat large volumes of light water for re-use in cooling systems or for “clean release” of the cooling water, according to the report.
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