Greenpeace slams Japan’s plan to dump radioactive Fukushima water into the ocean
- The decision by the government and the tsunami-devastated plant’s operator to release contaminated water into the Pacific was ‘driven by short-term cost-cutting’, a new study has found
Greenpeace has slammed a plan by the Japanese government and an electric utility company to release into the ocean highly radioactive water from the tsunami-devastated Fukushima Daiichi power plant, saying in a new report the decision was “driven by short-term cost-cutting”.
Released on Tuesday, the Greenpeace study condemns the decision taken after the disaster to not develop technology that could remove radioactivity from the groundwater, which continues to seep into the basement levels of three of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima.
An estimated 1.09 million tonnes of water are presently stored in more than 900 tanks at the plant, which was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, with up to 4,000 tonnes added every week.
The decision by the government and the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), to avoid developing the relevant technology “was motivated by short-term cost-cutting, not protection of the Pacific Ocean environment and of the health and livelihoods of communities along the Fukushima coast”, said Kazue Suzuki, campaigner on energy issues for Greenpeace Japan.
“We have raised the water crisis with the UN International Maritime Organisation and firmly stand with local communities, especially fisheries, who are strongly opposed to any plans to discharge contaminated water into their fishing grounds.”
The backlash against the plan jointly put forward by the government and Tepco began late last year after the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima designed to convince local people that releasing the water into the ocean would have no impact on marine or human life.
Anti-nuclear and environmental groups had obtained data leaked from government sources, however, that showed that the water was still contaminated, triggering public anger. Tepco was forced to admit late last year that its efforts to reduce radioactive material – known as radionuclides – in the water had failed.
The company had previously claimed that advanced processes had reduced cancer-causing contaminants such as strontium-90, iodine-129 and ruthenium-106 in the water to non-detectible levels.
Despite the much-vaunted Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) plant at Fukushima, Tepco has confirmed that levels of strontium-90, for example, are more than 100 times above legally permitted levels in 65,000 tonnes of water that have already been through the ALPS system.
In one of the hearings, Tatsuhiko Sato, a resident of Naraha who only returned to his home last spring because of contamination from the nuclear accident, accused Tepco of “not gathering all the data” and failing to adequately investigate reports that dangerous levels of radionuclides were still in the water after it was treated.
Local fishermen used the public hearing to express their “strong opposition” to plans to release the water, with one, Tetsu Nozaki, pointing out that while levels of radiation in locally caught fish and shellfish have been at or below normal levels for the past three years, releasing contaminated water would “deal a fatal blow” to the local fishing industry.
There has also been anger in some nearby countries, with environmental groups demonstrating in Seoul in November and Korea Radioactive Watch declaring that releasing the water “will threaten the waters of South Korea and other neighbouring nations”.
The issue was also part of a referendum held in Taiwan in November, with voters asked whether the government should maintain the ban on imports of food and products from areas of Japan that were most seriously affected by radiation from the disaster.
Japan’s trade ministry, however, still refuses to rule out the possibility that the water will be poured into the Pacific.
“We have established a committee to discuss the treatment of the water that is presently being stored and those discussions are still going on,” Shinji Hirai, director of the ministry’s Nuclear Accident Response Office, told the Post.
“There are five proposals being discussed, including releasing the water into the ocean or storing it underground, and we have not set a deadline for the committee to reach a decision.”
He declined to comment on the findings of the Greenpeace report.
But others have welcomed the new study, with Caitlin Stronell, spokeswoman for the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre, also expressing opposition to plans to dump the water into the ocean.
“There needs to be a lot of consultations before any decision is reached on what to do and it cannot simply be the government making an arbitrary decision,” she said. “The whole story of the Fukushima disaster has been one of lies and half-truths from the authorities and it is very hard to trust anyone in Tepco or the government on this issue.
“People’s opinions have been completely disregarded in the rush by the government to tell us how everything is just fine and we believe the people from the region, those who have lost the most, cannot be overlooked or neglected.”
The Greenpeace report concludes that the water crisis at the plant will remain unresolved for the foreseeable future – and that the only viable option to safeguard local communities and the environment is to continue to store the water.
“The Japanese government and Tepco set an objective of ‘solving’ the radioactive water crisis by 2020 – that was never credible,” said Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany.
“The reality is that there is no end to the water crisis at Fukushima, a crisis compounded by poor decision-making by both Tepco and the government. Discharging into the Pacific is the worst option and must be ruled out.”