Sunday, October 18, 2020

Japan cannot be allowed to flush its nuclear waste into the ocean

The international pressure is ramping up on new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to abandon plans to release 1.2 million tons of radioactive cooling water from Fukushima nuclear plant directly into the ocean.

The waste water has been accumulating at a rate of 170 tons a day ever since the catastrophic accident at the plant. The water has been pumping through the radioactive core of the damaged reactor in order to cool it and avoid a new melt-down, and up until now it has been stored in over 1,000 specially-designed tanks. Decommissioning the reactor has already cost Japan an estimated $200 billion. 

However, the storage facility is starting to run out space, and the environment minister announced last year that the only available option was to release the cooling water, contaminated with radioactive tritium and other radioactive elements even agter treatment, into the ocean to dilute it.

There has been an international outcry over the decision, particularly from neighbouring South Korea, which already prohibits imports of fish from the Fukushima area, and from the United Nations. Japan is already battling a bad (and deterioratimg) environmental reputation after pulling out of the international embargo on whaling last year, vocal opposition to calls for changes to its shipping fleet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its reaction to an oil spill near Mauritius, and an ongoing scandal over political interference in the Scientific Council of Japan.

Investment in nuclear energy was never risk-free, and there have always been hidden costs and huge potential liabilities. Now the radioactive chickens have come home to roost, Japan needs to live up to its international commitments and deal with it responsibly, rather than just flush it down the drain. Reap what you sow, and all that.

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