Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Editor’s note: The 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami, was one of the worst nuclear accidents of the twenty-first century to date. Nevertheless, worse ones might come in the future. In the quest for energy to fuel the machine, industrial civilization has built many vulnerable hazardous structures that can unleash highly toxic materials in the case of an “accidents.” Despite eleven years since the incident, TEPCO and the Japanese government haven’t been able to manage the waste water. Now, they are planning to dump it into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the Pacific Ocean home to numerous marine creatures, it is also a source of livelihood for the humans who live near: the humans that the Japanese government claims to care for as their citizens. This decision by the Japanese government demonstrates, yet again, that decisions in this civilization are not made based on public welfare.

More nuclear power means more weapons, more mining on indigenous lands,  more CO2 emissions, more radioactive waste and more accidents.


“We must remind Japan that if the radioactive nuclear wastewater is safe, just dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris and store it in Washington, but keep our Pacific nuclear-free.” (Vanuatu’s celebrated former ‘Turaga Chief’ Motarilavoa Hilda Lini)

In the face of considerable worldwide criticism, TEPCO is moving ahead with its well-advertised plans to dump contaminated water from storage tanks at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster zone into the Pacific Ocean. They are running out of storage space and the Pacific Ocean is conveniently right next door.

The Japanese government is courting trouble, as a contracting party to: (1) the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (2) the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and (3) the Convention on Nuclear Safety, Japan has knowingly violated all three conventions by making the decision to dump contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO’s toxic dumping scheme is opposed by some scientists as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded marine laboratories, e.g., the U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories, with over 100 member laboratories, has issued a position paper strongly opposing the toxic dumping because of a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data in support of Japan’s assertions of safety.

The position paper: “We urge the government of Japan to stop pursing their planned and precedent-setting release of the radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean and to work with the broader scientific community to pursue other approaches that protect ocean life; human health; and those communities who depend on ecologically, economically, and culturally valuable marine resources.”

Furthermore, Marine Laboratories agrees with the Pacific Island Forum’s suggestion that TEPCO look at options other than discharge. The toxic dumping plan has already put Japan at risk of losing its status as a Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partner. There are 21 partners, including the US, China, the UK, France, and the EU. According to Secretary General Henry Puna, the Forum has persistently requested Japan to share pivotal data, which has not been forthcoming: “In fact, we are very serious, and we will take all options to get Japan to at least cooperate with us by releasing the information that our technical experts are asking of them.”

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has endorsed the dumping plan. No surprise there. Also unsurprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the marketing arm for nuclear power, claims the dumping proposal is safe. Effective December 29, 2022, IAEA released an extensive report that details how the process will be monitored by independent entities, not to worry, uh-uh.

TEPCO generates 100 cubic metres of contaminated water per day, a mixture of groundwater, seawater, and water that cools the reactors. It is filtered for “the most radioactive isotopes” and stored in above-ground water tanks, but authorities admit that the level of tritium is above standards. It is almost impossible to remove tritium from water. TEPCO claims it is “only harmful to humans in large doses.” But who’s measuring?

According to TEPCO: “After treatment the levels of most radioactive particles meet the national standard.” However, the statement that most radioactive particles meet the national standard is not reassuring. And furthermore, why should anybody anywhere in the world be permitted to discharge large quantities of contaminated water that’s been filtered for ‘most radioactive particles’ directly from a broken-down nuclear power plant into the ocean under any circumstances?

But storage space is running out and the ocean is readily available as a very convenient garbage dump. Well, yes, but maybe find more storage space… on land… in Japan!

According to a Japanese anti-nuclear campaign group, the contaminated water dumping scheme violates the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution as well as the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Their opposition is endorsed by the National Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Japan. In September 2022, 42,000 people signed a joint petition delivered to TEPCO and Japan’s Ministry of Economy demanding other solutions to the toxic water dumping plans. According to national broadcasting firm NHK, 51% of Japanese respondents oppose the dumping plan. And a survey by Asahi Shimbun claims 55% of the public opposes the dumping.

A Greenpeace East Asia press release d/d April 28, 2021, says; “According to the latest report by the Japanese government, there are 62 radioactive isotopes found in the existing nuclear water tanks in Fukushima, among which concentration of a radionuclide called tritium reached about 860 TBq (terabecquerel) – an alarming level that far exceeds the acceptable norm.”

China’s Xinhua News Agency claims: “TEPCO believes that tritium normally remains in the wastewater at ordinary nuclear power stations, therefore it is safe to discharge tritium-contaminated water. Experts say TEPCO is trying to confuse the concept of the wastewater that meets international standards during normal operation of nuclear power plants with that of the complex nuclear-contaminated water produced after the core meltdowns at the wrecked Fukushima power plant. The actual results of ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) are not as ideal as TEPCO claims. Japanese media have found that in addition to tritium, there are a variety of radioactive substances in the Fukushima nuclear wastewater that exceed the standard. TEPCO has also admitted that about 70 percent of the water treated by ALPS contains radionuclides other than tritium at the concentration which exceeds legally required standards and requires filtration again.”

According to Hiroyuki Uchida, mayor of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, despite strengthened information about the toxic dumping by TEPCO and the government of Japan, the discharge plan has not gained “full understanding of citizens and fishery stakeholders.”

Rhea Moss-Christian, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, aka: the Pacific Tuna Commission said: “It’s a real concern and I just wish they would take a bit of time to think more carefully about this… this is a massive release and a big, big potential disaster if it’s not handled properly… There are a number of outstanding questions that have yet to be fully answered. They have focused a lot on one radionuclide and not very much on others that are also present in the wastewater.”

Greenpeace/Japan on TEPCO dumping: “The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima. The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes. It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts.[2] Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option [3], dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean… Since 2012, Greenpeace has proactively campaigned against plans to discharge Fukushima contaminated water – submitting technical analysis to UN agencies, holding seminars with local residents of Fukushima with other NGOs, and petitioning against the discharges and submitted to relevant Japanese government bodies.” (Source: Greenpeace Press Release, April 13, 2021)

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 22nd, 2022, President David Panuelo of Micronesia stated: “We cannot close our eyes to the unimaginable threats of nuclear contamination, marine pollution, and eventual destruction of the Blue Pacific Continent. The impacts of this decision are both transboundary and intergenerational in nature.”

In April 2021 Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister (serving from 2012-to-2021) Tarō Asō publicly stated that the treated and diluted water “will be safe to drink.” In response to Deputy PM Asō, Chinese Foreign Minister Lijian Zhao replied: “The ocean is not Japan’s trashcan” and furthermore, since Japan claims it’s safe to drink, “then drink it!” (Source: China to Japan: If Treated Radioactive Water from Fukushima is Safe, ‘Please Drink It’ Washington Post, April 15, 2021)

Mr. Zhao may have stumbled upon the best solution to international concerns about TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) dumping contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, TEPCO should remove it from the storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and deliver it to Japan’s water reservoirs. After all, they publicly claimed it’s “safe to drink.” Japan has approximately 100,000 dams of which roughly 3,000 are reservoirs over 15 meters (50’) height. For example, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in Japan is Ogouchi Reservoir, which holds 189 million tons of drinking water for Tokyo.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

‘Maohi Lives Matter’: Tahiti protesters condemn French nuclear testing legacy

‘Maohi Lives Matter’: Tahiti protesters condemn French nuclear testing legacy

Editor’s note: Testing nuclear bombs in “French Polynesia” is yet another example of the insane western mindset of colonialism, racism and entitlement.

France conducted 193 nuclear tests in the South Pacific

This article originally appeared in Global Voices.

Featured image: This is the third picture of a series of the Licorne thermonuclear test in French Polynesia, a scan of a (digitally restored) hard copy of a picture taken by the French army. Photo and caption by Flickr user Pierre J. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Written by Mong Palatino

More than 1,000 people gathered in the Tahiti capital of Papeete to condemn the failure of the French government to take full accountability for its nuclear testing program in the South Pacific.

France conducted 193 nuclear tests from 1966–1996 in Mā’ohi Nui (French Polynesia). France’s 41st nuclear experiment in the Pacific led to catastrophe on July 17, 1974, when France tested a nuclear bomb codenamed “Centaure.” Because of weather conditions that day, the test caused an atmospheric radioactive fallout which affected all of French Polynesia. Inhabitants of Tahiti and the surrounding islands of the Windward group were reportedly subjected to significant amounts of ionizing radiation 42 hours after the test, which can cause significant long-term health problems.

The July 17, 2021 protest was organized under the banner of #MaohiLivesMatter to highlight the  target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”continuing fight for nuclear justice. Campaigners said that despite the statement of former French President François Hollande in 2016 recognizing the negative environmental and health impact of the nuclear tests, the French government has done little to provide compensation or rehabilitation to French Polynesia.

After analyzing 2,000 pages of declassified French military documents about the nuclear tests, in March 2021 a group of researchers and investigative journalists from INTERPRT and Disclose released their findings on the health implications of the experiments.

According to our calculations, based on a scientific reassessment of the doses received, approximately 110,000 people were infected, almost the entire Polynesian population at the time.

The report has revived public awareness in France about the impact of their nuclear testing program. The French government held a roundtable discussion about the issue in Paris in early July. Though some criticized the French government for their alleged lack of transparency around the clean-up efforts in French Polynesia, officials denied these claims.

Protesters in Tahiti insisted that the French government should do more to address the demands of French Polynesian residents. Some noted that if French President Emmanuel Macron was able to seek forgiveness for the role of France in enabling the Rwanda genocide in 1994, he should at least make a similar apology for the harmful legacy of the nuclear tests in the Pacific.

The #MaohiLivesMatter protest has inspired solidarity in the Pacific.

Community leaders of West Papua expressed their support for the protest:

Youth activists from Pacific island nations also took part in the protest:

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN) Australia issued this statement of support:

As you gather in Maohi Nui on the 17th July we offer our deep respects to your leaders and community members who have long spoken out against the harms imposed by these weapons. We have heard your calls for nuclear justice. We continue to listen closely when you speak of the lived experience of the testing years and the on–going harms.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tackle the legacy of nuclear testing during his visit to Tahiti this month.

Green Flame: Nuclear Waste: A Million Years of Cancer

Green Flame: Nuclear Waste: A Million Years of Cancer

This episode of the Green Flame podcast is a discussion based on the film “Ocean Poubelles.” We talk about nuclear waste, the nuclear waste industry, nuclear waste dumping, and the production of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and nuclear medicine that results in this highly dangerous and long-lasting radioactive material.

Nuclear waste is a massive issue. It’s actually a much more serious danger in the nuclear industry than a meltdown or some Chernobyl type incident. Nuclear waste is something that is ubiquitous in the nuclear industry and nobody really knows what to do with it. There’s no safe way to store it. There’s nothing that can be done to safely “dispose” of materials that will be deadly for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of years into the future. Our discussion this week is on this topic of nuclear waste, which in many ways is a fascinating insight into industrial civilization, how it functions, the mindset of the technocrats that run the largest corporations in the world, the militaries and so on.

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About The Green Flame

The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast offering revolutionary analysis, skill sharing, and inspiration for the movement to save the planet by any means necessary. Our hosts are Max Wilbert and Jennifer Murnan.

Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

The Nuclear Question: Are We “Hostages to Modernity”?

Deep Green Resistance advocates for ending industrialization and moving to a localized, low-energy society. What about nuclear reactors?

If the DGR vision were carried out and the electrical grid dismantled, wouldn’t it lead to nuclear meltdowns?

By Max Wilbert


These are very important questions. They deserve a detailed response.

We must begin with this: no one has a plan to deal with nuclear issues, because there are no solutions. This is the insanity of the nuclear industry: to willfully unearth and concentrate radioactive material in a way that increases its deadliness by millions of times. Nuclear waste will remain toxic for billions of years.

How do we react to this? Where do we go from here? It’s essential to debate this issue. Let’s begin by examining the three main parts of the nuclear industry: nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants and reactors, and nuclear waste.

Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons are quite stable, and will not—as far as we know—explode on their own.

Alan Weisman writes, “The fissionable material inside a basic uranium bomb is separated into chunks that, to achieve the critical mass necessary for detonation, must be slammed together with a speed and precision that don’t occur in nature.”

The biggest danger of nuclear weapons is that they will be used in warfare. The threat is very real. And this risk will continue as long as nuclear arsenals are maintained in working order. And they are not just being maintained. They’re being expanded.

Even if nuclear weapons are never again used, they will corrode over time, releasing radiation from the weapons-grade uranium and plutonium inside them. This radiation will seep into groundwater and soil.

While high-energy industrial societies continue, the threat of nuclear war will only grow more serious. We support all efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war through de-armament, dismantling of the industry, regulation and control measures, etc.

Nuclear Power Plants and Reactors

There are more than 440 nuclear reactors around the world, and each is a disaster waiting to happen.

Nuclear reactors are most dangerous in two situations: first, as at Fukushima, when direct physical damage to the plant disables back-up generators and other safety equipment. And second, as at Chernobyl, when design flaws combine with user error to create a catastrophic failure.

Charles Perrow called these types of situations “system accidents.” A system accident is when multiple failures in a complex system interact with each other in unforeseen ways, creating a larger unexpected problem. His conclusion was that nuclear technology should be abandoned completely.

Reactors are designed to cope with simple black-outs, so failure of the electrical grid is one of the least dangerous of possible disruptions to a nuclear plant. It is unlikely that a single dramatic blackout will collapse the industrial economy and cause widespread nuclear catastrophe.

However, lasting power disruptions to nuclear facilities can lead to meltdowns. This will happen no matter what. Increasing extreme weather events, economic instability, refugee crises and war will lead to blackouts and brownouts. Societies must prepare for this by safely dismantling nuclear power plants as quickly as possible.

It is possible that in the future, an increasing number of medium-scale power disruptions will encourage the decommission of nuclear power plants, or at least force closer attention to safety precautions. For example, several countries have started to shut down or put on hold their nuclear programs since the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

We support the expansion of these efforts. The nuclear power industry must be shut down. Engineers, politicians, and civil society have a responsibility to shut down the nuclear industry and dismantle it as “safely” as possible. The problem is, there is no safe when you are dealing with materials that will kill for billions of years.

And not only is the nuclear industry not shutting down—it is expanding. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 55 nuclear power plants currently under construction.

Nuclear Waste

The most serious problem related to the nuclear industry isn’t reactors, but the radioactive waste they create. In the United States alone, there is at least 500,000 tons of Uranium-235—depleted uranium leftover from nuclear reactors. This material has a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

Depleted reactor fuel is (oddly enough) is more than a million times as radioactive as when it was raw ore. And the amount of it is growing steadily. Globally, around 13,000 tons of depleted fuel accumulates every year.

Ironically, depleted Uranium is often used in warfare, since it makes effective armor-piercing ammunition. In some locations, notably Falluja, U.S. military depleted uranium ammunition has led to explosions in birth defects and cancer.

Stored radioactive waste was the major issue with the Fukushima meltdown in 2011—not the power plant itself. Stored radioactive waste was the largest concern during the fires near the Los Alamos nuclear waste storage area in both 2000 and 2011, and after the near-flooding of a nuclear reactor in Mississippi in 2011. The reactor at any given nuclear plant contains only a small amount of active fuel compared to the spent fuel held within temporary storage facilities.

There is no good way to store this waste. No matter how it is contained—baked into glass sheets, poured into 55-gallon drums, encased in giant steel flasks and entombed in concrete, buried under mountains—it is still a threat to future life. Metal corrodes. Glass breaks. Earthquakes upend mountains. And 500 million years from now, this material will still kill any living creature that approaches it.

Are We “Hostages to Modernity”?

In a recent public panel, a public intellectual used the phrase “hostages to modernity” to describe how we are ‘locked in’ to a high-energy, industrial way of life because we must steward the nuclear industry. Is this true? Are we hostages to modernity?

In a sense, we are. The technical knowledge and engineering capacity to deal with nuclear issues as safely as possible is the sole domain of industrial society.

And yet this is an oversimplification of a complex situation. As we have seen, industrial societies are creating more nuclear power, more weapons, and more toxic waste far faster than any dismantling or cleanup is proceeding. And any “cleanup” that is being done is necessarily partial. Chernobyl is still toxic, as is Rocky Flats, Los Alamos, and Fukushima. There is no way to clean up these problems—only to mitigate some of the dangers.

So What Is To Be Done?

We believe the most responsible approach combines accelerated dismantling and cleanup of the nuclear industry using modern tools with a rapid dismantling of industrialism itself.

The ruling class is building more nuclear power and pushing us ever deeper into a full-on ecological apocalypse. Species extinctions. Extreme weather. Ocean acidification. Dead zones. Overfishing. Desertification. We are in a situation of converging crises.

In these dangerous times, nuclear meltdowns are just one of the catastrophes we face. And regardless of the scale of their horror, we have seen that life can survive nuclear catastrophe. The current “exclusion” zone around Fukushima encompasses about 600 square kilometres of land. This temporary boundary will probably — like Chernobyl—ironically end up ecologically richer over the coming decades.  Chernobyl was a horrible disaster. Yet it has had a positive ecological outcome: industrial human activity has been kept out of the area and wildlife is flourishing. There are now packs of wolves, endangered horses, wild boar and roe deer running wild in Chernobyl. It’s one of the most important wild bird areas in all of Europe. Hanford is the same. The nuclear waste at Hanford keeps one stretch of the Columbia River more wild than anywhere else, and it is this stretch that is the most important section of the river for wild fish.

This is not to say that the radiation doesn’t harm wildlife. It’s estimated that there is 50% less biodiversity in the most radioactive areas around Chernobyl.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the day-to-day workings of industrial civilization are more destructive to life on this planet than a nuclear catastrophe. It would be hard to do worse than Chernobyl.

More nuclear disasters will almost inevitably occur in the coming decades, whether or not the electrical grid is dismantled. Hazardous radioactive waste will accumulate as long as industrial civilization continues, and there are no safe long-term storage facilities anywhere in the world. So nuclear reactors will become more and more dangerous as larger and larger stockpiles of spent fuel are kept on-site.

Future nuclear disasters from shoddily-maintained plants will be very bad, but business as usual is far more destructive. And while nuclear radiation diminishes over time, unless something decisive is done, greenhouse gases levels will increase faster and faster as they pass tipping points.

There is no easy answer here. There is no simple solution. There is only the urgency that comes from confronting a stark reality. The nuclear industry must be dismantled—just like the fossil fuel industry, the mining industry, the industrial logging and fishing industries, the industrial agriculture industry. It must be shut down.

Further Reading and Videos

Nuclear weapons, power and waste create an immense amount of risk to the entire natural world (including humans). A number of civilian and military nuclear accidents have happened. These lists are incomplete, only include accidents, and do not account for the planned and deliberate harm caused by the mining, production, storage, waste disposal, or use of radioactive materials at weapons.

On top of that, mining for uranium itself is destructive to the land as well as the lives that depend on the land. Here’s an article about Uranium Mining On Navajo Indian Land.

Watch the following videos related to the topic.

Book Review: Assault in Norway—Sabotaging the Nazi Nuclear Program

Book Review: Assault in Norway—Sabotaging the Nazi Nuclear Program

Featured image: Vemork hydroelectric plant, Norway

     by Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance

 

“The tough gangster type of detective fiction was of little use [in underground operations], and, in fact, likely to be a danger. Help and support to the Norwegian resistance could only be provided by [people] of character, who were prepared to adapt themselves and their views—even their orders at times—to other people and other considerations, once they saw that change was necessary. Common sense and adaptability are the two main virtues required in anyone who is to work underground, assuming a deep and broad sense of loyalty, which is the basic essential.”  —Colonel John S. Wilson, leader of the Norwegian Section of the Special Operations Executive in British Exile during WWII

Thomas Gallagher’s 1975 book “Assault in Norway: Sabotaging the Nazi Nuclear Program” details a Norwegian-British covert operation carried out over the winter of 1942-43. I recommend this book for revolutionaries and serious activists, as it contains many details of how serious clandestine operations should be carried out, how to utilize intelligence and scouting, secure communications, subterfuge, proper use of terrain and other tactical advantages, and more.

The story revolves around the nuclear arms race. By 1942, U.S. and British nuclear physicists had discovered that creating an atomic bomb was a scientific possibility. This frightened them to no end, since they knew well that Germany had the most advanced nuclear research program on the planet.

Assuming that Germany had at least a 2-year research advantage, they began to look for vulnerabilities in the Nazi research program that could slow their progress toward a bomb.

A key element in this early nuclear research was “heavy water”—an isotope of standard water that can only be isolated and concentrated through the use of vast amounts of electricity. At the time, the only plant in Europe capable of creating significant amounts of heavy water was at the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork, in Nazi-occupied Norway.

Hoping to stop the flow of heavy water in Germany, British and Norwegian-exile military intelligence hatched a plan to sabotage the Vemork plant and destroy the stockpiles of heavy water held there.

Vemork was situated in a natural fortress, located in a steep mountain valley perched on a ledge on a nearly sheer cliffside. Aerial bombing would almost certainly fail, so the plan they devised was to be carried out on foot.

In October 1942, four Norwegians tasked with reconnaissance and preparation parachuted onto the Hardanger Plateau, at the time 3500-square miles of wild, virtually inhabited land. They survived there for five frigid months, eating reindeer moss and the reindeer themselves, scouting the Vemork site, detailing the habits of guards and workers, and assessing approaches to the plant. Aided by a sympathetic local population, including workers at the plant, they gathered detailed intelligence on the location.

In February, six more men parachuted into the region. They connected with the original team and created a detailed sabotage plan, which they then carried out. I won’t share any more details here, as the harrowing story is worth reading in full.

Unlike many other World War II narratives, this is not a run-and-gun firefight story. It is a story of minute planning, survival and travel in a harsh environment, and precision action carried out using terrain advantages and intelligence-driven decision making.

As such, it is an ideal story for those of us engaged in asymmetric struggle to study.

Max Wilbert is a third-generation organizer who grew up in Seattle’s post-WTO anti-globalization and undoing racism movement, and works with Deep Green Resistance. He is the author of two books.