Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2022
By John LaForge
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) plans to pump all 1.27 million tons of its contaminated water — which is peppered with over 60 radioactive materials and now stored in over 1,000 giant tanks onshore — into the Pacific Ocean commons. The water gets contaminated because it is pumped inside the three destroyed Fukushima reactors to cover hundreds of tons of thermally and radioactively hot, melted, destroyed reactor fuel (called “corium”). Tepco workers pump the water in to keep the fuel wreckage from going “critical,” melting further, and spewing more radiation. Additionally, tons of groundwater pours into the reactor building basements through earthquake cracks in the foundations, and it also passes over the corium, becoming intensely radioactive. The amount of waste water increases every day by 140 tons, Tepco says.
The company claims to be running out of storage space on land for the giant tanks (although the fishing community, environmental watchdogs, South Korea, China, and other Pacific Rim countries have contested the claim).
Now, copying the likes of France and Britain before them, Tepco and the government announced last year that the company will build a huge drain pipe and pump its pollution into the Ocean. This caused an international uproar, but the plan is moving ahead with federal government approval.
Then last summer Tepco announced that it will drill an undersea tunnel 40-feet deep and about 0.62 miles long for a wastewater drain, and said it would start drilling by the end of March 2022. The 8.2-foot diameter tunnel “requires penetrating the bedrock about [36 feet] below the surface of the [seafloor], according to the utility,” the daily Asahi Shimbun reported last August 26. “We have no idea how fast we can dig into the seafloor until we conduct a drilling survey into the bedrock,” a Tepco official told the paper.
Tepco’s tunnel idea replaces its earlier plan to lay a pipeline on the seabed. On December 20, 2022, ARD-TV Germany reported the puzzling explanation that, “The tunnel will run below the seabed so that it is not damaged by an earthquake or tsunami and by the current.” It was unclear how earthquakes — like the monstrous 9.0 magnitude that struck March 11, 2021, and actually moved the landmass of Honshu Island, Japan’s largest, one full meter — would not damage bedrock. Severe earthquakes have repeatedly rocked the Fukushima region of northeast Japan since 2011. The most recent was a frightening 7.4 magnitude quake on March 16, 2022.
Agence France Press reported that Tepco’s “chief decommissioning officer Akira Ono said releasing the water through a tunnel would help prevent it flowing back to the shore.” Ono went on to say, “We will thoroughly explain our safety policies and the measures we are taking against reputation damage,” appearing more concerned about the company’s image than about its contamination of the Pacific Ocean food web.
After Tepco acknowledged that its water filter system failed to remove radioactive materials as promised, the company has said it will re-filter the water already in its tanks. In addition, the company says the water will be diluted 40-to-1 with regular seawater before being pumped into the Pacific. One-million tons is so large a volume that Tepco estimates its re-filtering, diluting and dumping scheme will take 40 years to complete.
Decades-long practice of ocean dumping
Tepco’s ocean dumping plan recalls France’s practice at La Hague, where a waste “reprocessing” system has for decades pumped liquid radioactive effluent into the English Channel. Greenpeace has reported that La Hague dumps “one million liters [264,000 gallons] of liquid radioactive waste per day,” and the British Medical Journal published a study in 1997 that warned of an increased risk of leukemia for children who played regularly on beaches near La Hague’s effluent pipe.
Britain’s reprocessing complex at Sellafield pours radioactive waste through a mile-long pipeline into the Irish Sea, waste that’s known to be contaminated with plutonium, cesium, and other radionuclides. Radioactivity from the site was picked up in shellfish in Ireland, Norway, and Denmark, and in local seafood. “The nuclear industry’s irresponsible ‘out of sight-out of mind’ approach must now stop for good,” said Greenpeace nuclear campaigner, Diederik Samsom, on June 26, 2000. Instead, the corporate contamination of the world’s greatest ocean with privately owned radioactive waste is being franchised to Japan, in order to cut costs.
Twenty-two Million Tons of Bagged Rad Waste
The Washington Post has reported that at Fukushima vast “quantities of contaminated soil and water are being stored onsite while political leaders decide what to do with it…” But millions of bags of waste are not just “onsite.”
About two inches of the ground was scraped up from fields, flower beds, parks, and playgrounds across some 324 square miles in 52 cities, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported. Millions of one-ton plastic bags filled with contaminated soil, leaves, wood chippings, and other debris are piling up outdoors in thousands of places awaiting transfer to a landfill just outside Fukushima.
The massive landfill may eventually hold up to 22 million bags of the waste, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ten-ton trucks can carry only seven of the heavy bags at a time, the Times said, noting that “At that rate, transport could take decades. Material might have to be put into fresh bags if they start to break down before they can be moved.”