Concerns over the Fukushima wastewater release

One of the nuclear powerplants in Japan. Photo: canva.com

One of the nuclear powerplants in Japan. Photo: canva.com

There’s an issue even more scorching for the Korean Peninsula – Japan’s reckless disposal of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.

On April 13, 2021, the Japanese government decided to discharge contaminated water from Fukushima. The plan involves releasing the combined contaminated water, resulting from mixing cooling water and groundwater that came into contact with melted nuclear fuel at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, into the ocean. By May 2023, around 1.33 million tons of contaminated water had accumulated in storage tanks on the Fukushima site, reaching about 97% of the storage capacity. This has led to claims that Japan is rushing towards ocean disposal due to the tanks nearing capacity early next year.

It seems that even the Japanese government is unaware of the potential consequences after the contaminated water discharge. The Fukushima radioactive water has been generating around 700 to 800 tons per day right after the accident. Through various management efforts, this has been reduced to about 140 tons per day. While Japan’s government and Tokyo Electric Power Company have disclosed 64 radioactive isotopes, they have not provided accurate information about the total amount of over a thousand isotopes produced during nuclear fission. The list includes long-lived radioactive substances such as cesium-135 (half-life of 2.3 million years), plutonium-239 (half-life of 24,000 years), and iodine-129 (half-life of 15.7 million years). They have no answer to the question of whether there are only these 64 isotopes. Furthermore, they plan to test only a portion of the ALPS-treated water before releasing it into the ocean, citing technical and cost issues. ALPS is not a complete filtration system and cannot completely break down radioactive materials. In particular, tritium cannot be removed, a fact widely known.

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, radioactive substances have leaked, heavily contaminating nearby areas and oceans. More than 12 years have passed, but the situation has not been properly resolved. This ongoing radioactive leakage is arguably the most serious environmental disaster in human history. Yet, Japan’s government continues to assert that the situation is improving and even claims that Fukushima seafood is now safe to eat. If Japan’s claims were valid, there would be no reason to attempt ocean discharge of the radioactive water.

The fisheries cooperative in Fukushima is against the discharge of waste into the ocean.

The fisheries cooperative in Fukushima is against the discharge of waste into the ocean. Photo: canva.com

The Fukushima fisheries cooperative opposes the ocean discharge, and not only Korea but also countries like China, Taiwan, North Korea, and the Philippines have expressed concerns and opposition. Nevertheless, Japan’s ally, the United States, supports it, and the G7 conference also expressed approval. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated there are no issues with the ocean discharge. Despite opposition from neighbouring countries, Japan is proceeding with ocean discharge primarily for cost-saving reasons. Coastal discharge would cost around 30 billion JPY, whereas atmospheric release would cost 300 billion JPY, and underground burial would cost 2.3 trillion JPY. In the pursuit of cost savings, Japan is willing to inflict irreversible harm on the Pacific Ocean.

With 85% of its territory surrounded by oceans and its proximity to Japan, the people of the Korean Peninsula are deeply concerned about the repercussions of the Fukushima radioactive water release. Many citizens are actively protesting, petitioning, and considering legal actions against ocean disposal. However, unfortunately, the Korean government supports the unsubstantiated scientific safety of the discharge, even creating materials to promote the safety of the discharged water.

The ocean discharge of the Fukushima radioactive water will inevitably lead to widespread contamination across the Pacific, including Korea’s seas, over time. While various forms of radioactive exposure exist, the most concerning is through consumption of contaminated food. Seafood, a primary source of protein for humans, could be contaminated by radiation, and the fear of internal exposure through food has grown. Once ingested, these materials do not leave the body but accumulate. If the ocean is contaminated, humans at the top of the food chain will be most affected. Land will eventually be contaminated, and ecosystem destruction is imminent.

In the era of the climate crisis and transition to a sustainable world, the ocean discharge of Fukushima's radioactive water poses a threat to the shared global ecosystem. It is an act endangering the order of creation by our Creator. We must protect the “basic and universal right” of “access to safe drinkable water”, “since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” (Laudato Si 30) To protect this right, we cannot allow anyone to poison our common well, the ocean. No one should support or condone pollution under the guise of science.

The radioactive water is never safe. Waste is never safe. Safe and clean things are not discarded. The accumulation of capital is the accumulation of waste. Emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, discharging radioactive water, waste, and plastic into the ocean – this colonial exploitation of nature and privatization of the commons, the sky and the sea, severs the lifelines of our planet and destroys the future for generations to come.

During the 8th “Our Ocean” Conference held in Panama last March, Pope Francis sent a message to the participants about the significance of “humanity, gratitude, and awe” as we say “Our” ocean. He highlighted that all people rely on the ocean, and is naturally considered humanity’s “common heritage.” He pointed out that since the ocean is a “gift from the Creator,” we should strive to use it fairly and sustainably to pass it on to future generations.

The theme of this year’s Season of Creation is inspired by the words of the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). To make justice and peace flow like a mighty river, we must never allow radioactive water to be dumped into the ocean. Furthermore, to eliminate the dangers of nuclear contamination like the Fukushima disaster and high-level nuclear waste, the world must gradually shut down nuclear power plants and transition to eco-friendly renewable energy.

Creator God, please have compassion on the oceans, the lifelines of Mother Earth, and the global community of humans and all living beings that depend on them. Please prevent the misguided desires of the Japanese government that aim to contaminate the world with nuclear waste. Please hear our desperate cries. Amen.

Hyein Anna Noh, CLM Korea Coordinator

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