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The engineering professor says Japan’s plan to dump treated radioactive water into the ocean is not dangerous

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Japan’s plan to release purified radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant to the Pacific will have “no environmental impact,” according to a nuclear technology professor who spoke with CNBC.

Japan on Tuesday said the operator of the Fukushima facility, Tokyo Electric Power Co or TEPCO, will treat and dilute the water before it is pumped out in about two years. There is more than a million tons of radioactive water from the destroyed facility and it will take decades to fully release them.

The move has generated stiff resistance from Japan’s neighbors and environmental activists.

However, Brent Heuser of the University of Illinois said the filtering process removes most of the radioactive elements from the water, leaving only tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – that is not harmful in small amounts.

Photo taken on Oct. 12, 2017 shows giant tanks that store contaminated radioactive wastewater at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

“Tritium is not dangerous in small amounts … it will be very dilute, it is just not a problem, the environmental impact is zero,” Heuser, professor of nuclear, plasma and radiation technology, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” . on Thursday.

Still, Japan’s neighbors, including China and South Korea, have rejected the plan. The environmental group Greenpeace as well as local residents and fishermen also expressed concerns.

South Korea has called the Japanese ambassador to Seoul and is reportedly investigating ways to challenge Japan’s decision in an international court.

In China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement criticizing Japan for the “unilateral” decision to release the water, while Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Japanese officials to drink water from the Fukushima plant.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Taiwan that it would continue to voice its concerns and closely monitor related developments.

Polluting the ocean

The reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. TEPCO has accumulated the contaminated water in tanks, but storage capacity is expected to run out by the end of next year.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said releasing the water into the ocean was the “most realistic” option.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said, “Japan’s chosen water disposal method is both technically feasible and in line with international practice.” The US said Japan has been transparent and its approach is in line with “globally recognized standards for nuclear safety”.

For Heuser there are bigger problems with marine pollution than Japan releasing the treated water.

“I would tell people who are concerned about this going into the ocean: we’re throwing 8 tons of plastic in the ocean, pregnant women shouldn’t eat tuna because of mercury poisoning, microplastics are in the marine food chain – that’s what we should be concerned about “, he said.

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Katherine Clark