Ocean dumping: Fukushima far from under control

by Jess Miller

April 6, 2011

Japanese Flag

For weeks TEPCO and the Japanese government have tried to assure us that the crisis at Fukushima is stabilizing and that the situation is under control.

However, the recent decision to dump over 15,000 tons of highly radioactive water directly into the sea seems to suggest just the opposite. TEPCO’s decision to further contaminate the marine environment – to free up space for storing water with even higher levels of radiation – proves this crisis is far from under control.

Pouring seawater over the Fukushima reactors and spent fuel ponds has been a last resort to prevent a worst-case scenario in an already dire situation. It resulted in huge amounts of seriously contaminated water accumulating in the power plant’s basement and the rest of the facility. That water then was disposed of to make room for more contaminated water.

Officials have said that the water being released does not pose a significant threat to human health. That has yet to be proven – but what about the impacts of radiation on marine ecosystems, fishing communities and seafood?

During the last few days, seawater samples taken some 40km away from the damaged reactors have indicated serious levels of radioactive contamination Similarly, analysis of seaweed collected two weeks ago, also 40km away revealed an extremely high concentration of radioisotopes – several thousand times above the limit. The impacts of additional or continued dumping of contaminated water into the sea can only be imagined.

The east coast of Japan is important when it comes to fishing and the harvesting of seafood. The sea around the Fukushima plant has already been contaminated – TEPCO says seawater samples taken on 2 April close to reactor 2 contained 7.5 million times the legal limit for radioactive iodine. I assume legal limits for things like radioactive iodine are created with some consideration of safety in mind, so it’s hard to believe that anything 7.5 million times the legal limit won’t have a serious impact. Sadly, at this point the potential impacts of an extra 15,000 tonnes of radiation on the sea can only be imagined.

Field radiation team

Last week our field radiation team’s findings confirmed those by the Fukushima Prefectural Government for Iitate, and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Following these findings, we called on the Japanese government to evacuate the contaminated areas outside the official zone. The government has yet to call for an evacuation.

Recent reports that Japan’s government withheld information about radiation risks outside the evacuation zone add to the urgency our field team faces to supply accurate, independent information to local communities.

So we have a new team on the ground – right now, two radiation monitoring teams are outside the Fukushima evacuation zone: one investigating health threats and testing food and milk and the other is looking at surface contamination.

Nuclear reactors are inherently dangerous, and will always be vulnerable to the potentially deadly combination of human error, design failure and natural disaster. Governments around the world must commit to a future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy – nuclear power has no place in a modern safe and secure energy system!

Additional resources

Our Q and A on the Fukushima nuclear crisis
Main Fukushima nuclear crisis page

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