Japan’s imminent plan to dump Fukushima wastewater into the ocean is “scandalous,” warns CNIC
The Japanese government is set to begin its planned dumping of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean momentarily. Despite efforts by the plant’s operator to convince the public, the plan is far from safe and could endanger human health and the environment for decades, warns Dr Caitlin Stronell of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC).
Stronell’s work of raising awareness of the dangers of nuclear radiation follows closely in the footsteps of CNIC’s founder, Jinzaburo Takagi, who received the Right Livelihood Award in 1997.
Accidents like Chernobyl or the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 already provide cautionary tales against using nuclear power. However, Stronell is now speaking out against Japan’s plan to deliberately dump radioactive wastewater into the ocean – despite a 1994 convention prohibiting such practices.
“The fact that Fukushima Daiichi and the Japanese government can get away with it this time is quite scandalous,” she told Right Livelihood in an interview.
The government and the power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power or TEPCO, have drawn up plans to release 1.3 million tons of wastewater used to cool the melted reactors into the ocean over a period of 30 years. They say the dumping is necessary because they are running out of storage space. The water would first be run through a filtration system called the “Advanced Liquid Processing System” or ALPS.
Stronell noted, however, that the system cannot remove tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, which is very similar to water molecules.
“Tritium connects to other molecules very easily, and then it can stay in the body and cause all sorts of health problems,” Stronell said.
According to TEPCO, the remaining tritium is safe, especially when diluted with ocean water. This stance has also been supported by governments and international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
However, the approval to discharge tritium is connected to the nuclear power industry globally, Stronell explained.
“If they admit that that’s not safe, then there’ll be problems for the whole industry,” she said. “There are so many vested interests that it’s really difficult for other organisations to say that this is not a good idea.”
Another question is just how effective ALPS is. The 1.3 million tonnes of wastewater to be dumped has already been run through the filtration system once, but 70 per cent of it still doesn’t reach the standards to be considered safe.
“So they’ve said, ‘Okay, well, we’ll run it through ALPS again, and hopefully it will work this time, and everything except tritium will be removed,’” Stronell said. “It didn’t work the first time. What is the guarantee that it’s going to work the second time?”
Fishermen are among those who will be most affected by the dumping. The nuclear meltdown at Fukushima has already decimated the fishing industry in the area over the past 12 years. Now, their fishing grounds will continue to be polluted for at least the next 30 years.
“It’s just going to basically wipe out that whole culture,” Stronell said.
In fact, authorities are going ahead with the dumping despite strong objections from fishermen, even though they had promised to implement the plan only if fishing unions agree.
Throughout all this, TEPCO never really considered any alternatives to dumping the water.
“Lots of people have proposed alternatives, including CNIC,” Stronell said. “The water can be solidified and stored on land.”
But for now, it seems that Japan will go ahead with the plan. In many ways, the case resembles many other processes that have led to catastrophic results.
“The unknown is so great,” Stronell warned. “It’s the same with global warming or plastics or any of those things. People thought, ‘Yeah, that’ll be fine.’ But it really isn’t. And the fact is that we just keep putting these things in the ocean. It has to stop!”