Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2021-2022
On October 18, Japan’s Prime Minster Fumio Kishida said there would be no postponement of its plan to pollute the Pacific Ocean with 1.27 million metric tons of radioactive cooling water from Fukushima’s destroyed reactors. Kishida said releasing the “heavily diluted” waste water would begin in the spring of 2023. The dispersal is expected to continue for decades as the accumulation of radioactive cooling water increases by 150 tons every day. The water becomes severely contaminated after being poured over large volumes of roiling, not, melted uranium and mixed uranium/plutonium fuel under Fukushima-Daiichi’s three destroyed nuclear reactors.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi was openly mocked with laughter by the dignitaries at COP26 on November 4. The adamantly pro-nuclear Grossi had said before the large audience, “No one died from radiation at Fukushima,” provoking the laughs. “I don’t know why you’re laughing, it’s a fact,” he griped. Earlier Grossi warmed up the crowd with this thigh-slapper: “We control this activity so it does not cause any harm.” Grossi’s job is difficult since under its United Nations Statute, the IAEA has only one objective: “The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy … throughout the world.”
Japan’s April decision to further pollute the Pacific caused an uproar in dozens of Pacific rim of countries. South Korean officials denounced Kishida’s declaration the same day, saying that it represents a “grave threat” to the marine environment. South Korea continues to ban seafood imports from the Fukushima region and has repeatedly condemned the dumping plan, which a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said, “could affect our people’s health and security as well as the ocean environment.”
Alternatives to the ocean dumping include long-term tank storage, more thorough filtering, or evaporation, and in 2019 Japan’s own ministry of economy and industry recommended including evaporation in its list of waste water options.
China’s Global Times reported in October that Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, asked if the wastewater will be processed and will have no impact on the marine environment and food web as the Japanese government claimed, why can’t the water be recycled on land? Japan can’t answer any of these questions, said Liu. The ideal plan would be for Japan to process the wastewater to a safe level and recycle it, rather than dump it into the sea, said Liu.
A June letter to Japan’s permanent mission to the United Nations signed by a group of 70 groups, including Nukewatch, warned: “The dumping of radioactive water into the Pacific is also a violation of international law. The 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and the London Protocol prohibit dumping of any concentration of radioactive material into the sea.”
In May, three human rights experts appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council issued a statement that expressed “deep regret” at Japan’s dumping plan and “reminded Japan of its international obligations to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, to conduct environmental impact assessments of the risks that the discharge of water may have, to prevent transboundary environmental harms, and to protect the marine environment.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), operators of the Fukushima complex, announced August 24 it would construct a tunnel underwater to release the 1.27 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Tepco said it would start building at least one 8-foot diameter half-mile-long tunnel in March 2022 by hollowing out bedrock on the seabed near the No. 5 reactor at Fukushima, Japan Times reported.
Critics around the world immediately denounced the plan as an attempt to avoid any oversight, monitoring, or independent inspection of the radioactive materials in the waste water.
“…to dump it into an ocean, where we share the same tides, current, and fish, it is a level up from urgent for us,” said Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, noting that even basic concerns had not yet been addressed. “Currently we are not satisfied there will be no harm to our Blue Pacific,” he told Civil Beat in September.
A regional collective of young activists called Youngsolwara Pacific has condemned the dumping plan and Japan’s lack of consultation. Likewise, a senior South Korean foreign ministry official told China’s Global Times in October that, “Japan’s decision was made without enough consultations with neighboring nations.” Talei Luscia Mangioni, a researcher at Australian National University and Youngsolwara Pacific member, said “… this is an act of transboundary harm. ” And it is typical, she said, considering the history of nuclear powers that “have treated the Pacific as a sacrifice zone.”
In Iitate village 24 miles from Fukushima’s meltdowns, Nobuyoshi Ito, a former computer engineer, has been measuring the radioactive properties in the food and soil for nearly a decade. Mr. Ito always carries a monitor and is constantly recording radiation levels, “trying to determine what is and isn’t safe to eat, and where it is and isn’t safe to go,” CBS News reported last August. While the town’s evacuation orders are gone, Ito says people — especially children — shouldn’t return. “It will take 300 years to restore the village to its original state, and it will continue to emit radiation for 300 years,” he said.
On September 22, the United States lifted its weak restrictions on imported food stuffs from Japan, and food products free of inspection now include even rice harvested in Fukushima. According to Japan’s farm ministry, the US is the 3d-largest importer of its food products and were worth $1.09 billion in 2020. Fourteen countries continue to maintain their food import bans. FDA officials say they’d determining a “very low risk” to US consumers from radioactive contaminants in the foods. — JL