The World Today for February 07, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Dirty Laundry

THE PACIFIC

Since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power generators, officials have been running water through the nuclear fuel in the damaged reactor, then storing the irradiated water in more than 1,000 tanks at the site.

Now, as Science magazine reported, officials are running out of room to store the radioactive water – the area generates enough hazardous water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two weeks, according to Radio Free Asia. So, they are planning to dump 1.3 million tons of irradiated water into the Pacific Ocean over the course of the next 40 years. Japanese officials insist the resulting radiation levels will be too low to harm local ecosystems.

But many people who live throughout the Pacific are not pleased, arguing that nobody has conducted the research necessary to substantiate the officials’ claims. Japanese officials, for example, said they would filter the waste before dumping it, but can’t remove harmful tritium that is hard to separate from water.

“Based on our experience with nuclear contamination, continuing with ocean discharge plans at this time is simply inconceivable,” said Henry Puna, secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum, in an interview with Global Voices. “We do not have the luxury of time to sit around for four decades in order to ‘figure it out.’”

In an op-ed in the Guardian, Puna called on Japanese officials to negotiate with regional countries – potentially China, too – to find a better solution.

There is a reason that he and other regional leaders are skittish – they have experience with nuclear contamination. Leaders of the Marshall Islands, a republic of more than 1,200 islands in the central Pacific, have been seeking compensation from the US for the lingering effects of American nuclear testing in the region dating back almost 80 years ago, wrote Al Jazeera.

France has doled out almost $17 million in compensation to residents harmed by France’s nuclear tests in French Polynesia – a number that locals say is not nearly enough, added Radio New Zealand.

Still, writing in the Conversation, University of Portsmouth environmental science professor Jim Smith argued that dumping the water in the Pacific might be Japan’s best option.

First, wrote Smith, officials are correct to say they can reduce the water’s radioactivity with filtering. Second, tritium is relatively benign compared with other radioactive elements. Lastly, he argued, imagine the disaster if the 1,000 tanks ruptured and spilled uncontrollably, without preparation. He admitted, though, that dumping tainted water would harm Fukushima’s “beleaguered fishing industry.”

As far as disasters go, the nuclear ones keep on giving.

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