Hundreds of tons of radioactively contaminated water leak from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors every day. That water has to go somewhere and the operator of the plant is running out of places to store it. So the suggestion has been made that it be dumped in the sea.
At the scene of the Fukushima nuclear disaster they can’t clean anything without getting something else dirty.
The plant’s operator TEPCO has a decontamination system at Fukushima called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System). It takes the contaminated water and filters out most of the radioactivity except for tritium. This “tritiated” water is then stored in tanks.
The problem is that ALPS hasn’t been the most reliable of systems at Fukushima. Of the three systems in use, two had to be shut down for repairs earlier this year when it was found they were being corroded by the very water they were supposed to decontaminate. Last week one of them was found to be leaking hydrochloric and was shut down again.
It’s estimated it will take at least seven years to partially decontaminate the water already being stored.
There are currently something like 1,000 storage tanks on the Fukushima site. Some of the tanks aren’t safe – they were built by illegally hired workers who didn’t do a great job. Some of them leak. A lot.
To make matters worse, a further 400 tons of groundwater run into the destroyed reactors every day where it is also contaminated. Officials from the Japanese government’s industry ministry say TEPCO will run of storage space within two years if the crisis isn’t addressed.
So what’s to be done about Fukushima’s water crisis?
Japan’s nuclear watchdog the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have both suggested in the last few days that the water be dumped in the ocean.
“You cannot keep storing the water forever. We have to make a choice comparing all risks involved,” said NRA chairman Shinichi Tanaka.
“[C]ontrolled discharge is a regular practice in all the nuclear facilities in the world. And what we are trying to say here is to consider this as one of the options to contribute to a good balance of risks and to stabilize the facility for the long term,” said the IAEA’s Juan Carlos Lentijo, who has been in Japan monitoring the Fukushima decommissioning process.
The problem is, TEPCO and the NRA are not to be trusted. They have betrayed people’s trust too many times since the nuclear crisis began.
And what about the IAEA? It’s difficult to trust them either. It’s a pro-nuclear organization whose job it is to protect the nuclear industry not the environment or people’s health.
This is what we’ve come to because both TEPCO and the Japanese government have continued to fail at bringing the Fukushima disaster under control. Now they’re taking the easy way out – an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to the radioactive contamination their cover-ups and incompetence caused.
Dumping massive amounts of radioactively contaminated water into the ocean is unacceptable. Although the ocean covers nearly two-thirds of the surface of the Earth, it is still vulnerable to human influences, including dumping of waste. These contaminates can have a serious impact on marine life and ecosystems. Toxins and contaminants in the ocean find their way into the food chain, and into our bodies.
Because the water is partially decontaminated, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
In 1995, the Global Waste Survey Final Report concluded that the dumping of waste anywhere in the ocean is the same as dumping it anywhere on land. The difference between industrial wastes and nuclear materials is that nuclear waste remains radioactive for decades. Although nuclear proponents claim the risk to human health is small, the long-term effects of nuclear dumping are still unknown. If we wouldn’t dump it on our lands, why should we dump it in our oceans?
And after they’ve done it once, they’ll do it again and again until dumping contaminated water into the ocean will become standard operating procedure at Fukushima.
Cargo ships at sea, found to be deliberately dumping waste overboard, are banned from doing business in many major international markets. It’s about time those laws applied to the likes of TEPCO.
Calls from international assistance in dealing with the Fukushima crisis came too late from the Japanese government and such help has yet to appear in any meaningful way.
And so it goes. We’re hearing this week that deadly levels of radiation have been found outside the destroyed Fukushima reactors. It’s never ending.
Why isn’t the international community making more of a noise about Fukushima? Is it because the big voices on the international stage are all pro-nuclear power themselves?
Sooner or later, for all our sakes, our leaders are going to have to get their hands dirty at Fukushima.
(Image: Greenpeace experts examine fish samples on the Rainbow Warrior to monitor radiation levels as the ship sails up the eastern coast of Japan on her way to Fukushima in May 2011. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace.)