Plan to release Fukushima nuclear plant water into sea faces local opposition: “The sea is not a garbage dump”
Posted on June 1, 2023
BY ELIZABETH PALMER
MAY 31, 2023 / 11:03 AM / CBS NEWS
Japan’s government is asking for international backup as it prepares to release thousands of gallons of water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea. The plan has alarmed the public and outraged fishermen — even as the international energy agency looks inclined to back it.
The controversy comes 11 years after a tsunami swept ashore in 2011 and caused one of the worst nuclear accidents in history — a meltdown in three of the four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 200 miles north of Tokyo.
The plant sits in what was a lush coastal part of Japan, famous for its seafood and delicious fruit. Today, there’s still no-go area around the power station where fields lie fallow and homes sit abandoned.
Inside a high security fence studded with warning signs, engineers are still working to remove radioactive fuel rods that melted inside the reactors. They’ll be at it for decades.
Another problem is piling up in hundreds of metal tanks on the site: they contain more than a million tons of contaminated water.
The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, or TEPCO, has been collecting radioactive water from rain and runoff over the years. The water has been purified by sophisticated chemical filtering systems that remove harmful radioactive elements like cesium and strontium.
Now, TEPCO says, the time has come to stop adding to the storage problem and begin piping the water into the sea.
The trouble is, it’s still contaminated with one radioactive element: tritium.
Tritium occurs in nature, and it also occurs in wastewater that many nuclear power plants around the world release into the ocean. It has a half-life of 12.5 years, which means it turns into completely non-radioactive helium over time. But such is the lack of trust between TEPCO and the Japanese public that the water-release plan has encountered stiff opposition.
“Piping water into the sea is an outrage,” said Haruo Ono, who has been fishing the ocean off the coast of Fukushima all his life.
“The sea is not a garbage dump,” he said. “The company says it’s safe, but the consequences could catch up with us 50 years down the road.”
There will be no consequences, says TEPCO. The water will meet all international standards for discharge, and the discharge of the water into the sea — through a long pipe — will only start when all stakeholders have signed off.
Facility manager Kazuo Yamanaka said that even when the pipes and pumps are complete, “that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to start getting rid of the water.”
“The local community must sign off first, so we’ve been talking constantly with the local fishermen and residents of the communities,” he said.
To prove the discharged water will not harm fish, TEPCO has been raising flounder inside the nuclear plant. They flourish in tanks filled with tritium-laced water. Then, once they’re transferred to normal sea water, lab tests show they flush the tritium from their systems within days.
The International Atomic Energy Agency broadly backs TEPCO’s water release plan, which is slated to go ahead later this year.
But Haruo Ono, the fisherman, said the science is not the issue.
“People don’t understand it,” he said. “Mothers won’t choose Fukushima fish knowing it’s been swimming in radioactive water. Even if the experts say it’s safe.”
Under current rules, he can only take his fishing vessels out to sea a day or two a week, when he gets the OK from the government.
“This is the end of my livelihood,” he said.
Critics argue that Japan, prone to massive earthquakes and devastating tsunamis, should never have developed nuclear power. But with no oil or gas of its own, and anxious to reduce its reliance on coal, Japan built 17 nuclear plants, which provided efficient reliable energy — until disaster struck and Japan was forced to reckon with the true cost of nuclear power gone wrong.
The Fukushima nuclear plant won’t be safely decommissioned for years to come. So far taxpayers have paid $90 billion to clean it up.
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‘The Sea Is Not a Garbage Dump’: Groups Protest Plan to Dump Radioactive Water Into Pacific Ocean
Critics of a Japanese plan to release filtered radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the Pacific Ocean intensified their opposition to the proposal on Wednesday after the United Nations agency responsible for promoting nuclear energy said the company that operated the plant has adequately demonstrated its ability to measure the water's radioactivity.
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By Brett Wilkins
Critics of a Japanese plan to release filtered radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the Pacific Ocean intensified their opposition to the proposal on Wednesday after the United Nations (U.N.) agency responsible for promoting nuclear energy said the company that operated the plant has adequately demonstrated its ability to measure the water’s radioactivity.
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week released a report that found the Tokyo Electric Power Company — the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station that was catastrophically damaged during a 2011 meltdown in three reactors caused by an earthquake and tsunami — “has demonstrated its capabilities for accurate and precise measurements of the radionuclides present in the treated water stored on site.”
While proponents of the Japanese government’s 2021 proposal to gradually release more than 1 million metric tons of filtered Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific view the IAEA’s latest findings as a milestone on the road toward realizing the plan, opponents renewed their calls to keep the radioactive water out of the ocean.
“Piping water into the sea is an outrage. The sea is not a garbage dump,” 71-year-old Haruo Ono, who has been fishing off the coast of Fukushima his entire life, told CBS News. “The company says it’s safe, but the consequences could catch up with us 50 years down the road.”
Kinzaburo Shiga, a 77-year-old, third-generation fisher from Fukushima, told CNN the government’s plan makes his “blood boil.”
“I know that the government has decided to go ahead with the policy of releasing treated wastewater into the sea, but for us fishers, it really feels like they made this decision without our full consent,” he said.
Fears of radioactive contamination from the planned wastewater release have prompted protests from the governments of China, South Korea, some Pacific island nations and international environmental groups like Greenpeace, which argues the proposal violates international law.
“Continuing with ocean discharge plans at this time is simply inconceivable,” Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum intergovernmental group, wrote earlier this year.
“I fear that, if left unchecked, the region will once again be headed towards a major nuclear contamination disaster at the hands of others.”
Lee Jae-myung, a South Korean opposition lawmaker from the centrist Democratic Party, said earlier this month that “Japan is putting forward claims that the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant if treated, is safe enough to drink.”
“If it is safe enough to drink, they should use it as drinking water,” he added.
Last week, a team of 21 South Korean nuclear experts visited the Fukushima site to inspect equipment and facilities that would be used during the proposed wastewater release.
“This visit has made significant progress in the process of scientific and technological review through direct on-site confirmation and more detailed data acquisition, but additional analysis and confirmation work is planned for more precise judgment,” said Yoo Gook-hee, head of the inspection team, according to World Nuclear News.
“Based on this, we plan to comprehensively evaluate Japan’s plans for Fukushima-related water pollution and disclose the results.”
The Korea Herald reported Wednesday that the team of experts would conduct an additional review.
The wastewater release plan has also sparked popular protests in South Korea, where 85% of people oppose the proposal, according to a survey released last week by the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements.
“The Pacific Ocean is not some dump where contaminated water from Fukushima can be deposited. Japan must comply with UN conventions and the UN’s vision of protecting the oceans,” a coalition of South Korean activists said in a statement ahead of a May 22 demonstration in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza, according to The Hankyoreh.
“Since the Pacific is the largest ocean in the world, pollution in the Pacific would soon spread to every ocean in the world,” the activists added.
Common Dreams reported in 2012 that fish contaminated with radioactive cesium from Fukushima were found off the California coast months after the disaster.
Nuclear and public health experts have also weighed in against dumping radioactive wastewater into the ocean, even as others argued the plan poses “zero risk to human life.”
Tilman Ruff, an Australian infectious diseases and public health physician who co-founded of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said during a Friday Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview that dumping Fukushima water into the Pacific would be “a really unfortunate regressive step.”
“It’s applying a 19th-century ‘dilution is the solution to pollution’ approach to a problem that really should be dealt with in a much more modern way,” he continued. “They haven’t really considered adequate alternatives to store this water to use it in ways that don’t have long-term transboundary and transgenerational impacts across the Pacific.”
Ruff said the best course of action would be to “clean the water as best you can, then use it in concrete for structural applications like building foundations, bridges, under roads, where it’s not gonna have a lot of contact with people, and where some of the important radioactive releases… will be trapped in the concrete, where it’s much safer.”
“There are also options of long-term storage because radioactive materials decay over time,” he added.
Marcos Orellana, the U.N. special rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, told Al Jazeera earlier this month that he does not believe the IAEA is the neutral body it claims to be.
“The IAEA has a mandate to accelerate and enlarge peaceful atomic energy,” he said. “Why would the IAEA, on the same day that Japan announced its decision to discharge the contaminated water … come out publicly in support of Japan?”
“How this impacts the food chain, how this impacts human health, this is not at all clear,” Orellana added. “Alternatives are expensive, but even more expensive is the cost of contaminating the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of years with radioactive substances.”
Originally published by Common Dreams.
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