On August 24th 2023, Japan will start dumping the thousands of tanks of radioactive water piling up around the remains of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meltdown.The meltdown took place in March of 2011–more than 12 years ago. The dumping will continue for decades to come. The Japanese government wants the world to use the term “treated water” for the liquid waste they’ll be dumping off the coast of Fukushima but “nuclear contaminated water” is the truth. You can call wild fugu “pufferfish” but if you eat the liver of one, it will still kill you.
Even though the water has been processed to remove radioactive elements, there are twelve harmful substances that can’t be processed out.
And if you believe the Japanese government when they tell you it’s safe, you probably believed them when they told you for decades, “a nuclear meltdown in Japan is impossible”. Or when they said, “No one could have predicted that an earthquake and tsunami could cause a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant” right after the accident. A claim later proven false when reports predicting exactly that scenario were found and it was shown that the top executives in TEPCO had ignored them. Maybe you believed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when in a bid to win the 2020 Olympics for Japan, he told the world, “Fukushima is under control.”
12 years later, it’s clear it was never under control and isn’t now.
In March of 2011, an earthquake started one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in modern history, at the Tokyo Electric Power Company nuclear power plant. It was a preventable tragedy. Several independent reports reached the same conclusion: the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meltdown was a man-made disaster.
It was a man-made disaster because of years of corruption, myopic thinking, and nuclear myths propagated by Japan’s so-called “nuclear mafia”. The nuclear mafia aka nuclear village was made up of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the nuclear power conglomerates, yakuza, criminals, paid-off media, powerful advertising agency Dentsu, and Tokyo Electric Power Company—which had a long history of corporate malfeasance and cover-ups even before the disaster.
The thing is: the disaster isn’t over.
When the water stops flowing; the second disaster starts
The calm, orchestrated dance of water pouring at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is more than a routine – it’s a lifeline. Since 2011, the haunting specter of the nuclear meltdown has made Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) maintain a continuous stream of water onto the damaged reactor cores. It’s an act of both desperation and precaution, as the planet grapples with the legacy of one of its worst nuclear crises. But what if, in an alternate universe, TEPCO were to halt this flow?
The primary reason for this ceaseless pour is deceptively simple: cooling. Despite being “shut down”, the reactor’s fuel continues to produce decay heat, a byproduct of the radioactive decay of fission products. While this might sound abstract, the implications are concrete and perilous. Without the cooling effect of the water, temperatures within the reactor cores would skyrocket. Think of it as leaving a pot on a hot stove, unattended and unchecked.
Yet, the consequences extend far beyond mere heat. In the intricate and delicate world of nuclear science, an unchecked rise in temperature could rekindle the specter of recriticality. While the probability is considered low given the present state of the fuel, it isn’t non-existent. Essentially, we’re flirting with the slight possibility of nuclear reactions spontaneously restarting in localized zones.
Beyond this, with escalating temperatures comes the harrowing potential of hydrogen generation. To the layperson, hydrogen might evoke memories of high school chemistry or the Hindenburg disaster. In the context of Fukushima, it’s a grim reminder of the explosions that rocked the world in the early days of the crisis. When temperatures escalate, there’s a potential for zirconium cladding on the fuel to react with steam, producing hydrogen. This isn’t merely a chemical reaction; it’s an explosive risk.
Yet, even if we were to momentarily set aside the risks of recriticality and hydrogen buildup, there’s another lurking shadow: the environment. The integrity of the containment structures is tenuous. As temperatures burgeon, these structures could falter, becoming a gateway for radioactive gases and contaminants. It’s not just about the immediate vicinity; it’s about the air we breathe, the oceans that span our continents, and the very fabric of our global ecosystem.
To make matters even more intricate, there’s the concern of structural degradation. Without the water’s protective embrace, the reactor’s internal structures could corrode at accelerated rates, posing containment challenges that might even dwarf the present ones.
Of course, skeptics might point to the storage dilemma TEPCO currently faces. The vast quantities of contaminated water have been a logistical nightmare, posing their own environmental risks. By halting the water flow, wouldn’t we mitigate this issue? Perhaps, but it’s the quintessential act of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The immediate threats of forgoing cooling far outweigh the challenges of storing contaminated water.
Japan must keep pumping water into that nuclear hell-hole. It will overflow and need to be stored into tanks. Those tanks will be emptied into the sea.
Japan claims the only solution for dealing with the overflowing and rotting tanks of contaminated water—-thousands of them–is to treat them to remove some impurities and dump them in the ocean.
Fukushima’s Radioactive Woes: Beyond Just Tritium in the Contaminated Water
In a dick move that bypassed public opposition, contaminated water stored on the premises of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant will now be dumped into the ocean.
Even though Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Liberal Democratic Party) emphasizes its safety, even suggesting it’s harmless enough to drink, many are asking the pointed question: Is it really safe to release radioactive-contaminated water into our seas?
A significant concern among experts is the undue focus on tritium.
Major newspapers and TV networks report that while the contaminated water can be purified with a multi-nuclide removal facility called “ALPS,” tritium remains non-removable. The nuclear industry counters with claims that the radiation emitted by tritium is weak, it exists naturally, and regular nuclear plants also produce it, releasing it into the sea when it meets the required standards.
However, a larger concern seems to have slipped past major media outlets.
Tritium isn’t the only radioactive nuclide that ALPS fails to remove. Other radionuclides, such as Iodine-129, Cesium-135, and Cesium-137. among 12 in total, also elude its purification process. The three mentioned above I-129, Cs-135, and Cs-137 share the potential to cause long-term ecological and health impacts when released into the environment due to their radioactive nature, their ability to enter and move up the food chain, and their capacity to persist in the environment for extended periods. For more on these three see the notes at the bottom.
In 2021, Yamamoto Taku, who was a representative of Liberal Democratic Party’s “Water Treatment Policy Study Group,” clarified his stance on the problem.
“Let me be clear: I’m pro-nuclear… However, I believe the public should be given accurate facts, especially when so many reports on nuclear treatment water are misleading.” In an interview with Nikkan Gendai, he cited TEPCO’s documentation from December 24, 2020, which confirms that even after secondary treatment, 12 radionuclides, apart from tritium, remain. Many of these have incredibly long half-lives, with Iodine-129 clocking in at about 15.7 million years, Cesium-135 at around 2.3 million years, and Carbon-14 at about 5,700 years.
Taku also addresses the misleading narrative that “normal nuclear power plants also release into the sea.”
He explained, “The water treated by ALPS and the usual nuclear wastewater are entirely different entities. Among the nuclides ALPS can’t handle, 11 aren’t found in typical nuclear wastewater. Normal reactors have fuel rods covered in cladding, preventing the cooling water from touching them directly. However, at Fukushima Daiichi, water has come into direct contact with exposed fuel rods. The nuclides in the treated water originate from this accident.”
The underlying message is clear: once the water is released into the ocean, there’s no turning back.
No one is happy about the Japanese government’s decision except Tokyo Electric Power Company, which has escaped having to fund other more expensive solutions–and its stockholders, many of whom are members of the Liberal Democratic Party. Japan’s neighbors, Korea, China, Hong Kong and others are fearful of the effects that the radiation might have on marine life–are going to boycott many organic products made in Japan from Fukushima and neighboring areas.
The local fishermen and farmers in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures are furious as the release dials back and destroys efforts to convince the public and other countries outside of Japan that the fish caught and produce made in the area are safe.
Prime Minister Kishida who has refused to meet with the local fishermen to explain the decision, boldly tweeted #STOP風評被害 (STOP damage from rumors) to show his solidarity with the locals.
It’s nonsense. Because it’s not simply rumors that the water being dumped into the ocean isn’t safe, it’s the truth. How damaging? Nobody seems to have an answer. But you won’t see any Japanese politicians or TEPCO executives guzzling down a cup of ALPS treated water anytime soon.
The best way to stop damage from rumors? Stop dumping the nuclear waste in the ocean.
But it seems unlikely that Japan will change its mind—since the Japanese government seems incapable of learning from the past. They’ll keep dumping water into the oceans around Fukushima—until the next nuclear accident here. And if Japan keeps moving forward in reopening their unsafe and antiquated reactors, there will most certainly be another disaster. Probably before the current one is finished.
There are many people commenting on the situation and many of them with a vested interest in making sure that nuclear power continues to be hailed as an alternative energy source but we will leave you with the words of Professor Robert Richmond, to consider.
“Japan’s decision to go forward with the release of the treated, radioactively contaminated water is not surprising, but certainly disappointing. Both Japan and the IAEA can turn a challenging situation into an opportunity to explore and develop better approaches to nuclear disasters than ocean dumping.
Considering the documented deteriorating conditions of ocean health and that of those communities who depend on it, we should expect far better from those in positions of authority and responsibility. This decision violates the spirit of the UN Ocean Decade and the recently passed UH High Seas Treaty, as well as the rights of indigenous Pacific communities.
This is not the first such disaster nor will it be the last, and this decision undercuts the premise that the nuclear power industry is viable and responsible in its ability to deal with its own mistakes and wastes. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are forced to repeat it, and this action will be to the detriment of future generations who will likely suffer the consequences of decisions that are made based on expediency, politics, and profit above people.”
Professor Robert Richmond is Director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a member of the Expert Scientific Advisory Panel to the Pacific Islands Forum
Fun things that TEPCO can’t filter out of the “treated water”
Iodine-129 (I-129), Cesium-135 (Cs-135), and Cesium-137 (Cs-137) are all radionuclides, which means they are radioactive isotopes of their respective elements. They are supposed to be diluted when dumped into the ocean so much that they will not be harmful. Let’ s hope that’s true. In terms of harm to the natural world, they share several common characteristics:
- Bioaccumulation: All these radionuclides can enter the food chain. Once they are taken up by plants or animals, they can accumulate in tissues and move up the food chain. This can lead to higher concentrations in top predators, including humans.
- Long-lasting Environmental Contaminants: Both I-129 and Cs-135 have extremely long half-lives (15.7 million years and 2.3 million years, respectively). This means that they remain radioactive and present in the environment for a very long time once released. Cs-137, with a half-life of 30.17 years, while much shorter than the others, can still persist in the environment for several decades to centuries when considering its full decay process.
- Ecosystem Disruption: Areas that become highly contaminated with these radionuclides might become unsuitable for certain types of life or for agricultural practices. This can lead to changes in biodiversity, alter ecological balances, and affect human livelihoods that depend on these ecosystems.
- Water and Soil Contamination: These radionuclides can contaminate both water sources and soils. This poses risks not only for the immediate aquatic or terrestrial ecosystems but also for humans and other organisms that rely on these resources for sustenance.
- Radiation Emission: All three emit radiation as they decay, which can harm living organisms by damaging DNA and other cellular structures. This can lead to diseases, genetic mutations, and even death in extreme exposures.
- Human Health Risks: Beyond the natural world, these isotopes also pose significant risks to human health. For instance, I-129 can concentrate in the thyroid gland, increasing the risk of thyroid cancer, while Cs-135 and Cs-137 can be distributed throughout the body, exposing tissues to radiation and increasing the risk of various health issues.