Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2019
Japan’s environment minister Yoshiaki Harada said Sept. 10 that the operator of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors will have to dump huge quantities of radiation-laden waste water directly into the Pacific Ocean—a threat that has enraged local fishermen and nearby countries that share Pacific Ocean-front territory.
Over 1 million cubic meters (or tons) of contaminated water has accumulated at the site since it was struck in March 2011 by the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history and the subsequent tsunami that triggered three reactor meltdowns and forced 164,865 residents to flee their homes.
“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Harada told a Sept. 9 news briefing in Tokyo, the Guardian reported. “There are no other options,” he said. This claim is false, as there are at least four alternatives to ocean dumping including long-term storage.
Reactor owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) has repeatedly claimed that its filter system removes all the radioactivity from the waste water except tritium. But last year Tepco admitted that its enormous filter system had failed, and that water in the tanks still contains highly radioactive contaminants including radioactive cesium, cobalt, antimony, iodine, strontium, and tritium. The level of contamination in the stored water far exceeds legal limits allowing release into the ocean, and Tepco has promised to refilter the water, a process that will take 5-to-6 years.
Moreover, Greenpeace reports* that the water processing failure was known by Tepco from the beginning of its operation. The company kept the information secret for the five years between 2013 and 2018 because public disclosure would have ruined Tepco’s plans “to solve the enormous water crisis by discharge to the Pacific Ocean.”
Held in 1,000 huge tanks at the site, each with 1,000-1,200 tons of radioactive liquid, Tepco has said that it will run out of on-site space for more tanks by the summer of 2022. The amount of processed water increases between 2,000 and 4,000 tons each week. Dr. Gordon Edwards notes that, “In the next 4-5 years, another 750,000 tons will be added to the inventory.”
According to critics, Japan’s government and Tepco repeatedly suggest the idea of dumping the waste water into the Pacific in order to weaken resistance to the plan and to foster its acceptance among skeptics.
Japan’s Neighbors Complain
The governments of South Korea and Taiwan have formally objected to any ocean dumping of Fukushima waste water, warning that currents will bring the contamination to their own shores.
In addition, South Korea’s Olympic committee has raised concerns about the risk to Olympic athletes who will attend the 2020 summer games in Tokyo. With baseball and softball games set to be played in Fukushima City, South Korea’s committee asked in August whether food served in the Athletes’ Village could be contaminated with radioactive fallout that was widely dispersed by the wrecked reactors. Japan’s Olympic Committee replied by down playing the concerns.
South Korea should restrict imports of processed foods from Japan’s Fukushima region as radiation has been found in shipments, an opposition lawmaker said Aug. 19, Korea Times reports. Citing data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, South Korean Rep. Kim Kwang-soo of the Party for Democracy and Peace has reported that radiation was discovered in almost 17 tons of processed foods imported from the eight prefectures, or 35 shipments, over the past five years. South Korea banned seafood imports from states or prefectures near Fukushima in 2013 over reports of radioactive contamination. But no import restrictions have been put on processed foods from the areas. —JL
* “Tepco Water Crises,” Greenpeace Germany, Jan. 22, 2019.