By John LaForge
On August 24, Japan began pumping millions of gallons of stored radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean from Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco’s) devastated triple reactor meltdown site at Fukushima-Daiichi.
The deliberate contamination of the public commons — no accident this time — is a license to kill, a criminally reckless endangerment of sea life and an attack on the food web. Yet the 1992 ban on ocean dumping of radioactive waste applies only to barrels thrown from ships, not liquids sent into the sea through pipes. Further, the Law of the Sea allows victims to bring legal action only after an alleged harm has occurred, and then puts the burden of proof on victims to show that their illness(es) were caused by a particular radioactive poison.
The terrible Fukushima earthquake-tsunami-meltdowns of March 2011 have forced Tepco, owner of the three ferociously radioactive masses of melted uranium/plutonium fuel, to continuously pour cold water onto the unapproachable wreckage. Combined with rivers of groundwater that gush through quake-smashed cracks in the reactors’ foundations, another 130 tons of water every day becomes poisoned with radioactive uranium, cobalt, strontium, cesium, plutonium, and more.
While mainstream media regularly report that Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) has removed all the radioactive elements except for tritium, the system has been a nearly complete failure since at least 2018. The New York Times reported August 21, 2023, that, “According to Tepco’s website, just 30 percent of the approximately 473,000 tons of water in the tanks have been fully treated to the point that only tritium remains.”
“This water is contaminated with such radionuclides as cesium-137, carbon-14, tritium (some of which will form the more dangerous ‘organically bound tritium’), strontium-90, cobalt-60, iodine-129, plutonium-239, and more than 50 other hazardous radionuclides,” reported Rick Steiner, a marine biologist in Anchorage and former University of Alaska professor of marine conservation, in the Anchorage Daily News.
Spewing radioactivity is routine, if unknown
It’s no surprise that reactor-friendly governments such as the United States, France, and the UK, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (whose mission is to promote nuclear reactor proliferation), have given Japan’s oceanic pollution scheme their seal of approval. All of them have repeatedly declared that dumping radioactive wastes into public water bodies is standard industrial practice and legal. With straight faces, the authorities chant in unison that reactor operations contaminate the environment with radioactive liquids all day, every day, and this is somehow intended to demonstrate that such contamination is natural and the danger of chronic, low-dose exposure “negligible.”
At La Hague, France, and at Sellafield, England, giant radioactive waste processing systems produce millions of gallons of highly radioactive liquids, and for decades both have pumped radioactive materials directly into the North Sea (from France) and the Irish Sea (from England). Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, has studied internal radioactive contamination and has found cancer clusters among children along the Irish seacoast.
Scientists, ecologists, medical authorities, environmentalists, historians, and oceanographers have repeatedly pointed out that there are practical alternatives to Japan’s dumping scheme, and that nothing positive can result from adding more radioactive pollution to the environment.
The nuclear industry and its government protectors manage this legalized dispersal of gaseous, liquid and solid radioactive wastes using bailouts, bribes, and winks, and approvals from captured regulatory agencies. Radioactive polluters also depend on the lengthy “latency period” — years or decades between one’s radioactive contamination and the appearance of cancer, heart disease, etc. — which produces untold numbers of victims the world over. The nuclear industry can depend on the fact that the odds of losing a radiation damage lawsuit are between a slim chance and a fat chance.
The British Medical Journal, on August 16, published news of yet another study that has found that exposure to low levels of radiation is more harmful than scientists previously thought. Dozens of studies have made exactly the same finding since the beginning of the nuclear age. Some examples include:
• “Risk of cancer death after exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation underestimated, suggests nuclear industry study,” British Medical Journal, Aug. 16, 2023.
• “Even low-level radioactivity is damaging, scientists conclude,” Science Daily, Nov. 13, 2012.
• “With New Data, a Debate on Low-Level Radiation,” New York Times, July 19, 2005.
• “Study: No Radiation Level Safe,” AP, June 29, 2005.
• “Study: Even Low-Dose Radiation is Dangerous,” Reuters, Oct. 9, 1997.
• “Radiation health effects understated, study shows,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 25, 1995.
• “Researcher discovers greater radiation risk,” Milwaukee Journal, Dec. 9, 1992.
• “Radiation risks may be more than believed,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1991.
• “Higher Cancer Risk Found in Low-Level Radiation,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 1989.
Scientists: Little known about wastes’ effects
The U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories released a statement in December 2022 saying it was not convinced by Japan’s data. Marine biologist Robert Richmond, from the University of Hawaii, told the BBC on August 26: “We’ve seen an inadequate radiological, ecological impact assessment that makes us very concerned that Japan would not only be unable to detect what’s getting into the water, sediment and organisms, but if it does, there is no recourse to remove it … there’s no way to get the genie back in the bottle.”
And biology professor Timothy Mousseau at the University of South Carolina, author of an exhaustive review of existing studies on tritium, told The National Observer, that tritium “has been insufficiently studied to be making hard promises about the long-term safety of this kind of release.” Mousseau went on, “We don’t actually really understand what the potential ramifications of a massive point source of tritium will be on the natural environment.”
The Japanese government and Tepco hope that their global dispersal of meltdown cooling water will save the industry enough money that it can stay afloat amid the astronomical, ever-rising costs of post-Fukushima liability and disaster response. But August’s launch of Japan’s globalized pollution solution raises the chaos and deadliness of reactor operations to new heights, while the authorities claim that nothing needs to be done about nuclear reactor risks.
Notes New York Times, “Japan to Release Treated Water from Ruined Nuclear Plant Despite Concerns,” August 21, 2023.  Anchorage Daily News, “U.S. must urge Japan not to release Fukushima wastewater into the sea,” April 25, 2021.  British Medical Journal, “Risk of cancer death after exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation underestimated, suggests nuclear industry study,” August 16, 2023.  The Mainichi, “Researchers develop technology to remove radioactive tritium from water,” August 28. 2018.  National Observer, “As Japan releases Fukushima wastewater into the ocean, a fallout of fear follows,” August 31, 2023.