Years After Meltdown, Fukushima Groundwater Is A Nuclear Disaster

Fukushima NOAA Map Nuclear Disaster

The Fukushima nuclear disaster isn’t over, the radioactive waste is still leaking, and it isn’t just a Japanese problem.

I remember exactly where I was when news of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami broke in the US. Sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed, I watched in horror as it became obvious that the nuclear power plant at Fukushima had been seriously affected.

The fact that someone thought it was a good idea to build a nuclear power plant on the coast, in an areas known to see frequent earthquakes and tsunamis is mind boggling, but it’s nothing compared to what happened immediately after the meltdown. Within days, so-called “nuclear experts” were reassuring the rest of the world, that while Japan was screwed, we had nothing to fear.

Well, fast forward a year or two, and Fukushima is still a nuclear disaster. Just days ago, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency, this time because of a build-up of radioactive groundwater near the plant.

In July, Tepco (the energy company that operates the Fukushima plant) admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater had breached an underground barrier and been leaking into the sea, but said it was taking steps to prevent it. The head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, Shinji Kinjo, recently told the Reuters news agency that the countermeasures were only a temporary solution, however, and groundwater contamination was imminent.

[Let’s pause here for a note about water: There is only one ocean. All the rivers, streams, and aquifers of the world are replenished by rain evaporated from that same ocean. It is complete foolishness to talk about this in terms of ‘Japan’s water’ or ‘American water’. It’s our water. And thanks to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it’s all contaminated with toxic levels of radiation. That’s what makes this next bit particularly disturbing.]

“While the government has deemed some areas safe enough for part-time access, locals and activists say conflicting science and official secrecy surrounding the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl have bankrupted public trust,” reports TIME. “On Wednesday, just weeks after beaches south of the reactor were reopened, plant officials admitted that up to 300 tons of contaminated water are flowing into the sea each day.”

The good news is this is less that what was flowing into the ocean immediately after the disaster. The bad news is, since its mostly groundwater, the type of radiation now making its way into our ocean poses even more risk to human and animal life.

“Soil can naturally absorb the cesium in groundwater, but other radionuclides, such as strontium and tritium, flow more freely through the soil into the ocean,” notes Scientific American. “Tritium represents the lowest radioactive threat to ocean life and humans compared with cesium and strontium[…]. By comparison, strontium poses a greater danger because it replaces the calcium in bones and stays for much longer in the body.”

Still think you have nothing to fear? A study published in the International Journal of Health Services found that thousands of Americans have already been affected by radiation drifting to our shores from Fukushima. Nuclear energy isn’t safe, it won’t ever be safe, and what happened at Fukushima is just another reason to get out of the dirty energy game for good.

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Image: NOAA