By John LaForge
Japan’s oceanic pollution launched to wide protest
In August, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) began pumping some of its partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, raising loud international protests and prompting bans on importation of Japanese fish that may last the 30 or 40 years it will take to dump all the waste. China and four other Pacific Rim countries fully banned imports of fishery products from Japan from Aug. 24, when the wastewater discharge started.
Over 1 million tons of radioactive wastewater have accumulated in huge tanks at Fukushima. It is collected after groundwater and cooling water has poured over or run through the 900 tons of melted reactor fuel wreckage now lost somewhere under the three destroyed reactors.
Tepco said October 24 that its dumping of the second, 7,800-ton batch of radioactive wastewater was finished. According to Japan Today, Tepco plans to release 31,200 tons of the wastewater by the end of March 2024. This would drain merely ten of the 1,000 huge tanks of the waste that were built onsite since the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown catastrophe began in March 2011. Due to the need to continually cool the melted reactor cores, mass collection of radioactive wastewater will continue indefinitely.
Meltdown fallout and wastewater dumping prompt major seafood import bans
The operators of the destroyed Fukushima-Daiichi reactors intend to disperse over 1.34 million tons of the wastewater over the next 30 to 40 years, after convincing the government and international observers that the practice would have a “negligible” impact on sea life and human health. Fifteen countries have maintained import restrictions on Japanese fish and other seafood from heavily contaminated areas. According to Food Navigator online, five with the strictest bans are geographically close to Japan and fiercely opposed to the waste dumping. They are South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Ten others — Indonesia, French Polynesia, the U.S., the European Union (27 states), Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Russia, and Singapore — require certification, inspections, etc. before allowing imports. China’s ban has had a serious impact on Japan’s fishery.
According to the BBC, China imported over 100,000 tons of scallops from Japan last year. The South China Morning Post reports that China, had been the world’s biggest buyer of Japanese seafood, but “says its ban is due to food safety fears.”
Third round of wastewater dumping protested
In November, Tepco began its third deliberate discharge of radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. The group Korean Peoples’ Action Against Japan’s Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Wastewater said problems with the wastewater include clogged wastewater filters and an increase in the concentration of radioactive material in the third discharge compared to the second. Likewise, the Pacific Collective on Nuclear Issues, composed of civil society groups, NGOs, and others in the Pacific region, said in a statement, “If the Japanese government and Tepco believe the radioactive wastewater is safe, they should be prepared to safely dispose of it within terrestrial Japan.”
The Collective also reminded the November 8 meeting of Pacific Island Forum states that the panel of scientific experts commissioned by the Forum found that “data provided so far, to support Japan’s claim that the treated wastewater is safe, is inconsistent, unsound, and therefore far from reliable.”
Wastewater accident contaminates five workers
Tepco has reported that five workers “accidentally” came in contact with radioactive “fluid” while cleaning discharge systems pipelines, and two of them were contaminated enough to be kept under medical observation, China Daily reported November 6. According to Tepco, a doctor said there was a possibility the two men sustained burns due to radiation exposure, and that the radiation levels in the bodies of the two men were above the company’s allowable threshold. The paper, which has been highly critical of Japan’s wastewater discharging, demanded to know: “[S]ince four of the five workers ‘were wearing protective gear and full-face masks, which prevented ingestion of the fluid,’ how could the ‘fluid’ splash and burn the ‘lower body and both arms’ of one of them, and why the other worker, whose ‘entire body was found to be exposed,’ was allowed to do the dangerous work without wearing any protective gear?” The Daily’s editors said the “Accident proved Japan’s toxic water plan dubious.”
Faulty editors paste “safety” over risky wastewater discharge
“IAEA confirms safe tritium levels in latest ALPS treated water release at Fukushima,” was the November 7 headline Nuclear Engineering International magazine used in its report on Tepco’s wastewater dumping. Yet the article itself had no such confirmation. IAEA experts monitoring the discharge only said that the concentration of radioactive tritium in the waste was “far below Japan’s operational limit.” Nowhere did the word “safe” appear. The article itself is factually accurate since there is no safe level of radioactive contamination, regardless of how small the amount. It was the editors that have put words into the IAEA’s mouth and turned the reporter’s story into a lullaby.
Area forests are a re-contamination source
Jim Smith, a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth, wrote in The Conversation, October 23, that “Radiocaesium [cesium-137], which is the most important long-lived radioactive element emitted by the accident in terms of radiation dose, adheres to soil particles very strongly. Consequently, the decontamination of agricultural land primarily involved removing the top 5cm [about 2 inches] of topsoil. In urban areas, decontamination efforts entailed the removal of soil from sports fields”, school yards and other public areas.
As much as 71% of Fukushima Prefecture is covered by forest, and most of it remains contaminated. “Restrictions on the consumption of forest products have lasted for decades following the 1986 Chernobyl incident. And they are expected to persist in many forested areas of Fukushima too,” Prof. Smith wrote. Rainwater runoff from these forests creates routine downstream re-contamination of previously decontaminated areas. Additionally, forest fires can redistribute radioactivity still on trees and the forest floor creating inhalation risks.
Japanese minister under fire for calling wastewater ‘contaminated’
In an August 31 “slip of the tongue,” Japan’s Fisheries Minister Tetsuro Nomura publicly said Tepco was dumping “contaminated water” into the Pacific. As the waste is poisoned with four dozen radioactive chemicals due to the failure of Tepco’s filtration system known as ALPS, the minister was merely stating a fact. He was attacked in the press and by politicians for the “error” in not referring to “treated” water, and had to publicly apologize for the “gaffe” after being scolded by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.