The shocking environmental abuses of Japanese utility TEPCO — the owner of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant — have been lost in translation for Americans who stopped paying close attention after the immediate crisis caused by the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami seemed to subside.
Except the nuclear crisis in Japan didn’t subside. In fact, more than two years after the meltdown-type event at TEPCO’s oceanside reactors, I am struck by the similarities between the environmental crimes committed here in the Gulf by BP and those that have taken place halfway around the world. Just like after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, TEPCO — aided and abetted by government authorities — has consistently lied about the extent of the damage at the Fukushima site and the amount of radioactivity that was released into the environment. That has made it even more difficult to resolve the crisis. And just like BP, TEPCO has now taken us into uncharted waters — pun intended — by polluting the oceans on an unprecedented scale, raising new questions about the seafood harvest that will require scientists to monitor the impacts for years.
The latest revelations out of Japan are simply astounding:
A Japanese government official said Wednesday approximately 300 tons of contaminated water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean each day from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Reuters news agency reports.
The official also told reporters Tokyo believes the water has been leaking into the ocean for two years. The statement came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Wednesday to step up government efforts to stem radioactive water leakage, Reuters adds.
What’s the problem?
The utility said some of the water was seeping over or around an underground barrier it had created by injecting chemicals into the soil that solidified into a wall.
The seepage involves underground water that built up over the last month, since the company began creating the chemical walls to stop leaks after it detected radiation spikes in water samples in May. TEPCO spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai said Tuesday the company was slow to deal with the underground water leaks because it was focusing on cooling the damaged reactors, which posed greater risks.
“Slow” isn’t the word. TEPCO had actually been aware of these leaks for more than two years without telling either government regulators or the Japanese people. Remarkably, TEPCO now says that up to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium, a water soluble element that can affect DNA, has been released into the Pacific. They claim this massive amount is allowable, which strains credibility even further. Meanwhile, even more radioactive water is building up in containment trenches inside the damaged plant, elevating the crisis. Belatedly, the Japanese government is getting involved.
As the scope of the latest crisis became clearer on Wednesday, Japan’s popular prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his government to intervene in the cleanup of the plant — taking a more direct role than any government since the triple meltdowns in 2011 qualified Fukushima as the world’s second worst nuclear disaster.
Mr. Abe, a staunch defender of the country’s nuclear program, appears to have calculated that he needed to intervene to rebuild public trust and salvage a pillar of his economic revival plan: the restarting of many idled nuclear plants. That trust has been eroded not only by the original catastrophe, but also by two and a half years of sometimes embarrassing missteps by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, and what many Japanese see as the company’s continuing attempts to mislead the public and cover up continuing troubles at the plant.
And yet both TEPCO and the government in Tokyo continue to send mixed messages — still downplaying the environmental impacts and the potential risks even as they discuss solutions, such as a $400 million “ice wall” to keep new groundwater from entering the plant, on a scale that humans have never attempted before. The reality is this — we don’t know the real effect of leaking thousands of tons of tainted, radioactive water into the ocean because this is the first time that it’s happened. But it never should have come to this — and the response needs to be much more aggressive, with a bigger cast of players. Simply put, TEPCO cannot be trusted.
To learn more about the release of tons of tainted radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, please read: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57597331/tons-of-tainted-water-leaking-into-ocean-from-fukushima/
To read the New York Times report on the Japanese government reaction to the crisis, please check out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/world/asia/fukushima-nuclear-plant-radiation-leaks.html?_r=0
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