Impacts of Japan's Radioactive Wastewater Discharge on the Shipping Industry

On August 24th 2023 at 1pm local time, Japan officially began discharging radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean.

According to reports, Japan’s discharge of radioactive wastewater will continue for at least 30 years, and will affect the entire Pacific Ocean and even global maritime areas.

So what impacts will the radioactive wastewater have on the shipping industry?

Navigation Safety:

Radioactive substances may pollute ocean waters, making maritime areas dangerous. This could affect navigation safety for ships, especially in heavily contaminated areas, where special sailing rules or restrictions may need to be implemented.

Ship Maintenance and Cleaning:

Radioactive pollution could cause radioactive material to accumulate on ship surfaces, increasing maintenance and cleaning difficulty. It could also restrict ship usage in certain areas.

Route Planning:

If the radioactive wastewater causes contamination in specific sea areas, shipping companies may need to adjust routes to avoid polluted zones, increasing sailing distances and times. This could lead to shipping delays and affect cargo delivery schedules.


Ballast Water Issues:

Cargo ships at sea often encounter wind and waves, and use ballast water to adjust their draft and balance. The ballast water is seawater pumped into ballast tanks. If contaminated seawater is pumped in, radioactive pollutants could spread when the ballast water is discharged at foreign coasts/ports.

Threats to Ports and Coastlines:

Radioactive contamination could render some ports and coastlines unsuitable for docking, unloading or human access, disrupting normal shipping operations.

International Law and Compliance Issues:

The wastewater discharge may involve international laws and compliance issues. Shipping companies may need to ensure they follow relevant regulations to avoid legal troubles or sanctions.

According to Liu Senlin, a researcher at the China Institute of Atomic Energy Sciences, after circulating once, the radiation levels contacting Chinese waters will be much lower. However, low radiation does not mean low impact, especially locally e.g. on the Japanese economy, local fishermen’s livelihoods, neighboring Korea’s seafood etc. From a social perspective, it will affect global economic development.

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