Environment

Japan Readies to Poison the Pacific With Another Million Tons of Highly Radioactive Water

The Japanese government is planning to unleash another 1 million tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from its damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

A team of NRC officials, led by Chairman Allison Macfarlane, views the steel plate-covered spent fuel pool of reactor 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex Dec. 13, 2012. This is long after the March 11, 2011 date of the original earthquake and tsunami that catastrophically damaged it. Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, CC

This falls on top of likely millions of tons of radioactive water the plant had already released when it was damaged in the first place.

One side of this argument is Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the company that runs the plant, and the government of Japan. On the other side are scientists who have studied the data about residual radioactivity coming in the plant’s cooling water.

Tepco and the government say the radioactive material in the water has been cleansed of most of its radioactive residue. They say all that is left are virtually undetectable radioactive traces, and that only “safe levels of tritium” are present.

Documents discovered by the Telegraph newspaper of London tell a different story. They say the cleaning system that was used to scrub the water “has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt and strontium.”

The Telegraph report is damning, saying that, “The government is running out of space to store contaminated water that has come into contact with fuel that escaped from three nuclear reactors after the plant was destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan.” It goes on to say that, "Its plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks into the Pacific has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores."

The report further charges that the government agency which dealt with the 2011 Fukushima disaster (where an earthquake and tidal wave nearly exposed the country to a radioactive breach of epic proportions) is quite aware of the failure of the plant’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS).

As the Telegraph went on back in September, “Tepco was forced to admit that around 80 percent of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels after the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima at which local residents and fishermen protested against their plans.”

In commenting on what may be about to happen in Japan, Shaun Bernie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, said that even without the clear evidence of high levels of radioactivity in the water, even the reportedly “safe” levels of tritium can do serious harm to people and marine life. He told the Telegraph that, “Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays”. He added that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.”