The Guardian • Issue #2062


The Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (TEPCO) has more than 1000 tanks of contaminated water from the cooling of reactors as it decommissions its Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant at Fukushima. The nuclear power plant was catastrophically damaged in 2011 with a meltdown in three reactors caused by an earthquake and tsunami. The plant produces 100 cubic metres of waste water daily as part of the clean-up operation which is expected to take another three decades. It has plans to dump 1.3 million tons of nuclear-contaminated waste into the ocean. Most, but not all radioactive elements have been filtered from the water. Tritium and carbon 14 are two radioactive isotopes that have proved difficult to separate from water.

Earlier this month, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report noting that “the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water into the sea, as currently planned and assessed by TEPCO, would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.” The Japanese government has used this report to give the go-ahead to the dumping of the nuclear-contaminated waste. The IAEA said TEPCO “has demonstrated its capabilities for accurate and precise measurements of the radionuclides present in the treated water stored on site.” Having the capacity for accurate measurements is no guarantee of safety. We are supposed to trust a corporation with a vested interest in cutting costs!

Not everyone is happy. The plan has many problems, including the long-term effectiveness of Japan’s purification facility and the supervision system. A number of scientists have warned of the potential human health impacts. Chang Yen-chiang, director of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea Research Institute at Dalian Maritime University, China, told Global Times that marine organisms will be the first group to be harmed, as aside from tritium, more than 60 types of radioactive nuclides would be left in the contaminated water and it remains unknown whether they would lead to genetic variations.

Fishing and seafood industry groups in Japan have raised concerns about their livelihoods, as they fear consumers will avoid buying seafood and it could affect marine tourism. “Piping water into the sea is an outrage. The sea is not a garbage dump,” 71-year-old Haruo Ono, who has been fishing off the coast of Fukushima his entire life, told CBS News. “The company says it’s safe, but the consequences could catch up with us 50 years down the road.” Large protests have been held in Japan.

China, South Korea and the Pacific Island nations have raised concerns. Chinese customs authorities are highly critical of the IAEA’s report saying it “failed to fully reflect the opinions of all experts involved in the evaluation and the conclusions have not been unanimously recognised by all parties.” China announced a continuation of its previous ban on imported food from Japan’s Fukushima and nine other regions.

In 1985, regional leaders established the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Rarotonga Treaty), prohibiting the testing and use of nuclear explosive devices and the dumping of radioactive wastes in the sea by member states, including Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations.

Fukushima and Chernobyl demonstrate why Australia should not build nuclear power plants. Australia has an abundance of wind, sun and oceans which can be used to provide more than enough renewable energy to serve our needs. Write to Opposition leader Peter Dutton telling him “No nuclear power plants!” and write to your Labor MPs and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urging Labor to remain committed to its no-nuclear energy policy.

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