Recent newspaper reports have expressed concern about the apparent decision by the Japanese Government and TEPCO to discharge large volumes of radioactive tritiated water from the stricken Fukukshima nuclear power station in Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
I have expressed concern myself about this proposed decision -see here. Instead I recommend that TEPCO and the Japanese Government should build more storage tanks to allow for the decay of the radioactive tritium.
Some readers have commented that all nuclear power stations world-wide discharge tritium into the sea (sometimes via rivers) and into the atmosphere. This is true and TEPCO used this fact to try to justify its proposed dumping of tritium into the sea. My reply was that two wrongs do not make a right: it is in fact quite worrying that all nuclear facilities routinely dump large volumes of tritium into the sea and the air.
This applies to all UK nuclear power stations as well – including Hunterston B and Torness in Scotland. Recent reports have expressed concern about the restarts of the ancient dilapidated reactors at Hunterston B which are well past their sell-by dates. See here and here
These fears largely centre on the risks of a nuclear accident at these old unsafe reactors.
But shouldn’t we also be concerned about their tritium discharges?
Data on these discharges can be found in the latest report “Radioactivity in Food and the Environment” (RIFE 24) published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). See here.
These data are contained in tables A2.1 and A 2.2 buried deep at the back of Appendix 2 of the RIFE report on the annual radionuclide releases from UK nuclear facilities.
In 2018, annual tritium releases to the sea from Hunterston B were 148 terabecquerels (TBq) and the even more dangerous tritium emissions to the atmosphere totalled 0.96 TBq. A ”becquerel” is the rate of radioactivity meaning one nuclear disintegration per second. A “ terabecquerel“ means one trillion (one followed by twelve zeroes) becquerels. Written in full it is 1,000,000,000,000 becquerels – a very large amount.
Some people may argue that this amount when spread across one year ( ie ~10,000 hours) is less dangerous. But they would be wrong, as in many cases most of the annual releases are spiked… ie they occur at certain events and not throughout the year. This is explained here.
The situation is similar at all other UK nuclear power stations. For example, at Torness, the tritium discharges in 2018 were 295 TBq into the sea and 1.32 TBq into the air.
In most cases, these annual amounts are larger than the annual amounts being proposed to be released at Fukushima. So shouldn’t we be equally be concerned at these releases, as we are at the Japanese ones?