Dumping Fukushima’s Water into the Ocean

In this article, Robert Hunzinker writes about the current situation regarding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident which has led to the spillage of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean and also water containment issues with worrisome consequences.

By Robert Hunzinker / Counterpunch.

For nearly a decade the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been streaming radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. As it happens, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) struggles to control it. Yet, the bulk of the radioactive water is stored in more than 1,000 water tanks.

Assuredly, Japan’s government has made an informal decision to dump Fukushima Daiichi’s radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. A formal announcement could come as early as this year. Currently, 1.2 million tonnes of radioactive water is stored.

The problem: TEPCO is running out of storage space.

Government of Japan’s solution: Dump it into the Pacific Ocean.

Third-party expert solutions: Build more storage tanks.

Environmental groups insist there is no reason why additional storage tanks cannot be constructed outside the perimeter of the plant. They accuse the government of seeking the cheapest and quickest solution to the problem. All along, authorities have promised the site will be safe in 40 years. Really, only 40 years!

According to IAEA’s Director General Grossi, who visited Fukushima in February 2020, dumping radioactive water that is mainly contaminated with tritium meets global standards of practice.

In that regard, advocates of nuclear power utilize a subtle storyline that convinces, and deceives, the public into accepting nuclear power, however reluctantly. It goes something like this: “There’s nothing to worry about. Nuclear power plants routinely release tritium into the air and water. There is no economically feasible way to remove it. It’s normal, a standard operating procedure.” Nevertheless, as shall be explained in more detail forthwith, there is nothing positive about that posture, absolutely nothing!

According to TEPCO, all radioactive isotopes will be removed, except tritium, which is hard to separate. Still, similar to all radioactive substances, tritium is a carcinogen (causes cancer), a mutagen (causes genetic mutation), and a teratogen (causes malformation of an embryo).

The good news: Tritium is relatively weak beta radiation and does not have enough energy to penetrate human skin. The principal health risks are ingesting or breathing the tritium.

TEPCO has deployed an Advanced Liquid Processing System that purportedly removes 62 isotopes from the water, all except tritium, which is radioactive hydrogen and cannot easily be filtered out of water.

However, the filtration system has been plagued by malfunctions. According to Greenpeace International, within the past two years TEPCO admitted to failures to reduce radioactivity to levels below regulatory limits in more than 80% of the storage tanks. Reported levels of Strontium-90 (a deadly isotope) were more than 100 times regulatory standards with some tanks at 20,000 times:

“They have deliberately held back for years detailed information on the radioactive material in the contaminated water. They have failed to explain to the citizens of Fukushima, wider Japan and to neighboring countries such as S. Korea and China that the contaminated water to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean contains dangerous levels of carbon-14. These, together with other radionuclides in the water will remain hazardous for thousands of years with the potential to cause genetic damage. It’s one more reason why these plans have to be abandoned.”

Cancer is the main risk to humans ingesting tritium. When tritium decays it emits a low-energy electron (roughly 18,000 electron volts) that escapes and slams into DNA, a ribosome or some other biologically important molecule. And, unlike other radionuclides, tritium is usually part of water, so it ends up in all parts of the body and therefore, in theory, can promote any kind of cancer. But that also helps reduce the risk because tritiated water is typically excreted in less than a month. (Source: Is Radioactive Hydrogen in Drinking Water a Cancer Threat, Scientific American, Feb. 7, 2014)

Some evidence suggests beta particles emitted by tritium are more effective at causing cancer than the high-energy radiation such as gamma rays. Low-energy electrons produce a greater impact because it doesn’t have the energy to spread its impact. At the end of its atomic-scale trip it delivers most of its ionizing energy in one relatively confined track rather than shedding energy all along its path like a higher-energy particle. This is known as “density of ionization.” As such, scientists say any amount of radiation poses a health risk.

You can read the full article here.

2 thoughts on “Dumping Fukushima’s Water into the Ocean”

  1. There is a lively debate among geologists as to when the existence of humans became a death sentence for the planet, and nuclear technology is the most recent of seven candidates.

    In chronological order, the others are (1) the harnessing of fire, (2) our earliest presumed extinction of other animals (mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, etc.), (3) the development of agriculture, (4) the beginning of globalization (set at 1492), (5) the Industrial Revolution, and (6) the emergence of capitalism, with its cancerous insistence on perpetual growth.

    An interesting summary of the debate (“When Did Humans Doom the Earth for Good?” by Robert Sullivan) is available online.

  2. 1. Fukushima is a nightmarish disaster that just keeps on happening. Anyone who advocates nuclear power after Chernobyl and Fukushima has the mentality and attitude of Dr. Strangelove.

    2. The main victims from Fukushima, like all other human-caused environmental problems, are not humans. Fukushima is mainly harming the ocean and everything that lives there, and the obsession on human harms by these writers is a perfect example of what’s wrong with humans, i.e. their bad attitude toward the Earth and everything else on it. I’m far more concerned with the harms caused to fish, marine mammals, and sea birds by Fukushima than I am to a few members of a grossly overpopulated and very harmful species, which also benefited from the electricity that Fukushima generated.

    3. Mark, I’d add genetic engineering after nuclear technology. Genetic engineering is messing with the basic building blocks of life and perverting natural evolution. In a perfect example and result of extreme human hubris and oversized ego, humans think they can just manipulate genes in any perverted way they so choose for their own convenience and profit. We probably won’t be alive to see the dire consequences of this, but I hate to imagine what they are for life on Earth. I would also say that the answer lies somewhere between Nos. 2 and 3. I don’t think that a few humans using a little dead wood to make a few fires mattered a lot, but extinctions certainly do, and agriculture was the beginning of the end.

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