By John LaForge
Japan announced in January that the government would delay plans to pump over 1.37 million metric tons of watery radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean from the devastated six-reactor complex at Fukushima Daiichi. With the country facing harsh international pressure to cancel the dumping, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno acknowledged “the need to gain public support” for the plan, the Associated Press reported January 12. Public hostility toward the plan increased February 22, when the government approved TEPCO’s proposed reduction in wastewater monitoring; it okayed cutting the number of isotopes in released water that it will monitor from 64 to 30.
Fierce criticism of the scheme has come from China, South Korea, other Pacific Rim countries, scientists, environmental groups, UN human rights experts, and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), an alliance of 17 Pacific island nations. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also said the government wants to postpone the dumping – by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) – until it is “verifiably safe to do so,” Thomas Heaton reported February 16 to Hawaii’s Civil Beat news outlet.
Anti-dumping pressure by the PIF, independent countries from whose waters up to half of the world’s tuna is sourced, was crucial in forcing Japan’s apparent retreat. The PIF has warned that contaminating the water could harm the fishing that island economies depend on. Mari Yamaguchi reported for the AP January 12: “Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to tritium and other radionuclides on the environment and humans is still unknown and the release plan should be delayed. They say tritium affects humans more when it is consumed in fish.” A scientific expert panel has urged reconsideration of the dumping “because it was not supported by data and more information was needed,” Ken Buesseler, with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told the PIF January 18.
Japan announced in April 2021 that it would allow TEPCO to pump the collected wastewater into the Pacific. TEPCO has said the process will take 30 to 40 years using an underground and undersea tunnel now under construction. Media attention has focused on the radioactive tritium in the waste, which cannot be removed by filtering, and has ignored long-lived carbon-14 which likewise cannot be removed.
Mostly unreported has also been the collapse of TEPCO’s filter system which was supposed to separate dozens of long-lived radioactive elements from the cooling water, including ruthenium, cobalt, strontium, cesium, and even plutonium, but has not done so. Dr. Buesseler told Science magazine in 2020, “Many other isotopes are in those tanks still, and over 70 percent would have to be cleaned up further before they might even consider releasing….”
The water becomes contaminated (150 tons every day) after being poured over hundreds of tons of melted, radioactive uranium fuel – and plutonium in Reactor 3 – deadly hot wreckage amassed deep inside the foundations of the three destroyed nuclear reactors. Reactor 3 suffered a huge hydrogen explosion on March 14, 2011, and it was packed with “mixed oxide” fuel made of uranium and plutonium. Hydrogen explosions also caused severe damage to Reactors 1 and 2, and to the waste fuel pool of Reactor 4.
— Used by Counterpunch, March 3, 2023, https://www.counterpunch.org/2023/03/03/japan-to-delay-ocean-dumping-of-contaminated-waste-water-from-fukushima/