On Hiroshima Day, radioactive wastes from Fukushima haunt oceans

Cleaning up the nuclear wastes by a company that is already facing charges of negligence is a matter of worry.

nuclear bombs, Hiroshima Day
Each year on 6th August we are reminded of the world’s most heinous crime against humanity done by the use of nuclear bombs. The United States, with the consent of the United Kingdom, dropped these bombs on 6th and 9th August in 1945 respectively on the Japanese cities killing about two hundred and thirty thousand people or even more.

The devastating impacts of the bombings continued for years and the trail they have left haunts humanity even now. The world has however hardly learnt a lesson from this. Even though no country has used a nuclear bomb after that, nuclear power has been aggressively pushed by the world.

More ironically, nuclear power is being touted by nation states as a ‘green energy’ ignoring the 33 serious accidents at nuclear power stations from the one first recorded in 1952 at the Chalk River in Ontario, Canada to the latest reported in Fukushima in the Pacific Ocean in 2011.

Each such disaster has seen unprepared companies and governments that have not only mishandled the disasters but also have left the people and ecology to suffer. Looking into the Fukushima disaster, that’s the latest and worst since the Chernobyl disaster, would tell us why.

The Fukushima disaster

On March 11th in 2011, an earthquake recording magnitude 9.0 occurred at 2.46 pm and shattered the northern part of Japan, especially in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate. The Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered huge damage as its piping facility, system for external power supply and power backup facilities were destroyed.

Early morning of 12th the next day, leaked radioactive materials were detected all around the plant and the amount of this leakage was said to be one fifth of the Chernobyl accident.

Even though the Japanese govt. as well as TEPCO, the plant operator, initially refused about the leakage the impacts came out in the open. The rate of the accident level was
raised from initial 5 to 7, same as the Chernobyl level.

Marine life and people in the vicinity were severely impacted and from initial danger warning within 3-kilometre, the warnings were extended to 20-30-kilometre but the United States issued an 80-kilometre radius warning.

The radiation threat, that may cause cancer among many other ailments, continue to affect people but the Japanese govt continues to deny the same by specifying higher ‘safe exposure limits’.

Even though no one is said to have died due to exposure of the radiation from the plant, the TEPCO officials are facing a trial for death of 40 elderly people – among other things – who were evacuated from a hospital near the plant.

Three senior officials of the company have been facing a trial for their role in avoiding internal security warnings about the plant in case of such magnitude Tsunamis and the
company is now working on a government roadmap to clean up the plant and decommissioning that may take 30 to 40 years at a cost of around 20 billion US dollars.

TEPCO’s cleaning up act is dangerous for the Ocean

Cleaning up the nuclear wastes by a company that is already facing charges of negligence is a matter of worry. The company is allegedly trying to dump the radioactive wastes in the Pacific Ocean. This would be catastrophic to the marine ecosystem.

According to SumOfUs, a global community of activists, post-Fukushima disaster, contamination in the local marine food chain has not generally improved. 40 per cent of species remain unfit for consumption, according to Japanese standards, which have been relaxed since the disaster.

Each day, 300 tonnes of water wash through the Fukushima reactors, cooling them down and collecting a slew of radioactive material along the way. While some of the contaminants can be filtered out, the water cannot be cleaned from tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen — resulting in nearly a million tonnes of highly radioactive waste water.

The fishermen are already complaining loss of livelihood that would erode further if TEPCO succeeds in releasing the massive toxic dump into the ocean for which it has sought nod from the Japanese government.

770,000 cubic meters of contamination

The Epoch Times reports  that the TEPCO says it may dump as much as 770,000 cubic meters of water contaminated with the radioactive tritium into the Pacific Ocean, as part of its clean-up efforts.

Because it is so difficult to remove tritium, most nuclear plants release tritiated water into the environment, says this report, adding, the releases are controlled, as it would be at Fukushima, to allow the tritium to diffuse in the environment gradually, in concentrations considered safe.

Many regulatory agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the US and World Health Organisation (WHO) consider tritium as having not so dangerous impacts and argue that the chances of cancer by its exposure is very limited. But the problem is not limited to that.

As Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, explains – as reported in the above Epoch Times news – “Other, more hazardous radioactive substances, such as strontium and cesium, have been removed from the Fukushima wastewater. But the filtration system used to remove these substances is not 100 percent effective.”

So the dangers loom large over the marine ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean. Many citizen organisations and others have already petitioned the Japanese government  not to give green light for this act by TEPCO.

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Our Oceans need to stay alive and healthy

There are certainly many mysteries that surround the so called ‘clean fuel’ tag being given to the Nuclear energy. As it seems from various researches and reports, there is huge lack of independent assessments on the exact disastrous impact of the radioactive wastes.

It would be wise of the government of Japan to consider these factors and take an appropriate decision by taking on board all stakeholders including local people, fishermen and environmentalists. The Pacific Ocean needs to stay healthy, so do all our other Oceans.


*Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert. Views expressed are personal.

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