By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
18 October 20
nce again the people in charge of the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant are talking about flushing 1.2 million tons of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. That’s more than 265 million gallons of water so toxic that it currently has to be stored on-site to keep it safe. This is not a new problem. Radioactively toxic water has accumulated constantly since three of Fukushima Daiichi’s four nuclear reactors melted down in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The present situation, as reported by Reuters on October 16, suggests some uncertainty about the actual release of radioactive wastewater:
Nearly a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan’s government has decided to release over one million tonnes of contaminated water into the sea, media reports said on Friday, with a formal announcement expected to be made later this month.
This is a “decision” that authorities at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the plant, and the Japanese government, which is responsible for it, have wanted to make for a long time as a safety shortcut and money-saving stopgap solution to a problem that’s not going away for decades to come. TEPCO and the government have been floating the Pacific dump for more than a year without ever carrying it out. No one knows what impact such a massive amount of radiation will have on the Pacific Ocean. Neighboring countries object to being guinea pigs in an experiment that has no fail-safe. The Japanese fishing industry in the Fukushima region, already battered by the after-effects of the meltdowns, adamantly opposes further release of radioactive water into the ocean.
TEPCO and the government have been trying to shed responsibility for the Fukushima disaster for years. A report in 2002 predicted the possibility of an earthquake and tsunami. The power company took no precautions. Government regulators failed to compel the company to take precautions. On September 30, ruling in a suit filed seven years earlier, the Sendai High Court found that TEPCO and the government are responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster. This is the first time a High Court has ruled on a Fukushima case, and the first time a High Court has sought to hold TEPCO and the government accountable for their actions and inactions. TEPCO and the government have appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
As matters now stand, radioactive water seeps continuously into the Pacific at a presumably low but unmeasured rate. This is uncontrolled groundwater that enters the melted cores clean but becomes irradiated by the cores that remain highly radioactive and all but unapproachable even by robots. The cores, inherently more dangerous than the original accident, are kept in check by cooling water pumped into the containment vessels. This water also becomes highly irradiated and is stored in huge tanks on site, which is running out of storage space.
Dumping radioactive water into the ocean won’t solve the problem. It will only free up storage space that will slowly fill until it needs to be dumped again – depending on whether the presently proposed dumping results in a new disaster. TEPCO has promised to treat the wastewater, removing all radioactive elements except Tritium. Nuclear wastewater with low levels of Tritium is routinely dumped by nuclear operations around the world. This dumpage is from normal nuclear operations, not plants in meltdown crisis. TEPCO’s treatment of Fukushima wastewater is expected to take another two years. Whether the treatment is effective remains uncertain.
Uncertainty is the key word when it comes to Fukushima. Reuters, having reported the dumping decision had been made (above), later in the same story quotes the Japanese industry minister as saying that no decision had been made, but that a decision needed to be made quickly to “prevent any delays in the decommissioning process.” That is nonsense, if not sheer dishonesty. The “decommissioning process” has no effective timetable, the melted cores are years if not decades from being brought under control, and the buildup of radioactive wastewater is only a visible sideshow to the largely invisible ongoing nuclear calamity at the bottom of the destroyed reactors.