Fukushima Plant Is Releasing 770,000 Tons of Radioactive Water Into the Pacific Ocean

by Dahr JamailTruthout | Report –

When Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a triple-core meltdown in March 2011 as the result of devastating earthquake, most people had no idea this was only the beginning of a nuclear disaster that has arguably become the single worst industrial accident in human history.

Keeping the three core meltdowns cool has been an ongoing challenge that has yet to be met. As fresh water is pumped over the cores, it is then stored on site in massive tanks. The Tokyo Electric Power company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, then has to figure out what to do with that water.

Recently, TEPCO announced that it would dump 770,000 tons of radioactive tritium water into the Pacific Ocean.

The announcement infuriated local fishermen and environmental groups across Japan. According to Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist and winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson prize, their outrage and alarm is not without merit.

“The release of thousands of tons of radioactive tritium by a giant utility company into our aquatic and natural environments is a blood-chilling prospect,” Savabieasfahani told Truthout.

She questions why there is not more outrage from those in the Japanese government who are responsible for safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the general public.

“Where are the defenders of our public’s health?” she asked. “If they could pull the plug out of their mouth, they could tell us that tritium is a toxic radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and that, once released, tritium cannot be removed from the environment. Let that sink in.”

“The Decision Has Already Been Made”

Takashi Kawamura, TEPCO’s chairman, when asked about the decision to introduce this vast amount of radioactive water into the ocean, initially responded, “The decision has already been made.”

While he quickly softened the statement, he has not stated that the action will not occur.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Shunichi Tanaka, has claimed that tritium is of little danger to humans and supports TEPCO’s plans to dump the water into the ocean.

This claim, however, is vehemently disputed by toxicologists and nuclear experts with more background in toxicology than Tanaka.

M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and is also a contributing author to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2016. He is critical of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s administration’s mishandling of Fukushima.

“The proposed release of radioactive, contaminated water from Fukushima against the wishes of the local residents, especially fishermen, represents yet another violation of people’s rights to a clean environment and a decent livelihood so as to protect the financial interests of TEPCO,” Ramana told Truthout.

Tanaka argued that dumping the radioactive water is safe because that level of tritium is unable to penetrate plastic wrapping. However, Ramana said that justification misses the point.

“NRA Chairman Tanaka is correct when he says that tritium is ‘so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping,’ but that is irrelevant if the material is ingested,” Ramana said. “Because the tritium that is released will be in the form of tritiated water, it can be easily absorbed by the body as it is chemically identical to water.”

According to Ramana, a special concern with tritiated water is that, when ingested by pregnant women, it can pass through the placenta and affect the fetus.

“During this stage, the developing organism (the embryo and the fetus) is highly radiosensitive,” he added.

And this is only one of the many ways in which tritium is dangerous for humans, at even the lowest levels.

Fukushima Is an “Ongoing Disaster”

Dr. Bruno Chareyron, an expert in radiation effects, won The Nuclear-Free Future Award in 2016. He is the director of the CRIIRAD lab (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendentes sur la RADioactivité), founded in 1986, which not only monitors the environment for radiation contamination, but trains people to investigate radioactivity as well.

Chareyron was blunt with Truthout about what is happening at Fukushima.

“It is important to understand that the Fukushima disaster is actually an ongoing disaster,” he said. “The radioactive particles deposited on the ground in March 2011 are still there, and in Japan, millions of people are living on territories that received significant contamination.”

According to Chareyron, even territories located more than 200 kilometers away from the damaged nuclear reactors received significant fallout depending on wind direction, rainfall and/or snow.

And it’s not just Fukushima prefecture that is affected by radioactive contamination.

“The Japanese authorities have launched a huge program of decontamination on a territory of about 2,400 square kilometers,” Chareyron explained. “It is estimated that every day about 15,000 people are involved in this program. The ground and most contaminated tree leaves are removed only in the immediate vicinity of the houses, but a comprehensive decontamination is impossible.”

Cesium 137 is a radioactive isotope that is one of the more common byproducts from the formation of Uranium-235 in nuclear reactors.

“Six years later, the radioactive Cesium 137 has decreased by only 14 percent,” Chareyron said.

Chareyron said the powerful gamma rays emitted by Cesium 137 could travel dozens of meters in the air. Therefore, the contaminated soil and trees located around the houses, which have not been removed, are still irradiating the inhabitants.

To underscore these points, his lab produced a video that shows the power of gamma radiation emitted from outside a building in Fukushima city in May 2011. That video can be viewed here, as can another clip showing the contamination inside Fukushima city in June 2012.

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Reprinted with permission from Truthout