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Japan’s push to discharge nuclear wastewater into the sea may lead to a systemic global ecological disaster

According to a recent report by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the head of the Tokyo Electric Power Company said that the construction of facilities related to the discharge of nuclear waste water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to be completed around the spring of this year. Prime Minister Kishida said that he has made a decision that the plan to discharge nuclear waste water to the sea from spring to summer this year will not be changed, fearing that a systemic global ecological disaster will be induced.

In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear leak at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In order to control the temperature of the reactor and prevent the escalation of nuclear disasters, it is necessary to continuously inject water into it to cool it down. However, the nuclear accident caused the reactor to break and a large amount of radioactive material leaked outside the reactor.  Due to the low terrain of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, large amounts of groundwater and rainwater continue to collect in the area of the plant, resulting in a continuous increase in the stock of nuclear wastewater. According to TEPCO, after the initial purification and recycling of nuclear wastewater, the daily new nuclear wastewater is controlled to about 150 tons. In order to store this wastewater, TEPCO started to build large-scale water storage tanks within the plant, but this method only delayed the impact of excess nuclear wastewater. With the continuous increase of nuclear wastewater reserves, the water storage capacity in the plant is approaching its maximum capacity, and the tanks installed in the early days have been significantly corroded by the wind, sun and nuclear wastewater, increasing the risk of secondary leakage.

In March 2020, in response to the nuclear wastewater issue, the Japanese government proposed five treatment options, namely evaporation of nuclear wastewater into the atmosphere, discharge of nuclear wastewater into the deep underground, electrolysis of nuclear wastewater, solidification and burial of nuclear wastewater, and its optional direct discharge into the sea.  In April 2021, the Japanese government officially decided to discharge nuclear wastewater into the ocean. TEPCO estimates that the plan would cost 3.4 billion yen and take 91 months to complete. Once the decision was made public, it sparked widespread opposition in Japan and international community. Although the Japanese claims that the nuclear wastewater will be treated by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) before being discharged into the sea, which can remove most of radioactive contamination, Japan refuses to respond to the joint technical questionnaire proposed by neighboring countries such as China and Russia, and it also admits that the ALPS cannot filter radioactive elements , including tritium, which are difficult to remove.

According to the Helmholtz Center for Marine Research in Germany, the radioactive contamination in the nuclear wastewater of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant will spread to most of the Pacific Ocean within 57 days of discharge, and North America will be affected by nuclear pollution in 3 years, and major global waters in 10 years. In 2019, radioactive elements such as iodine-129, strontium-90, tritium, ruthenium-106, and carbon-14 were detected in the nuclear wastewater of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Iodine-129 and strontium-90 are both highly carcinogenic; strontium-90 is enriched in the human body through food and is absorbed by bone structures and is difficult to excrete, significantly increasing the probability of developing bone cancer and leukemia. Tritium, on the other hand, can linger in organisms and cause genetic mutations. Carbon-14 can accumulate in fish in large quantities, causing serious pollution to fishery resources.

Even if Japan were able to completely remove radioactive contamination from existing nuclear wastewater, the situation of nuclear contamination at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is still not optimistic. In February, fragments of radioactive material containing europium-154 were found inside the reactor containment of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1. It indicates that the material that melted nuclear fuel from Unit 1 is still present in large quantities and continues to pollute the area around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Japan’s unilateral discharge of nuclear wastewater into the ocean in the process of disposing of nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant poses a great risk of triggering a systemic global ecological disaster. The discharge of nuclear wastewater into the sea will not only seriously pollute major fishing grounds off Japan, but also cause continuous and systematic serious impacts on global fish migration, pelagic fisheries, human health and ecological safety. Japan’s forcing nuclear wastewater into the sea will inevitably trigger the spread of nuclear pollution and cause a global chain reaction. As the nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evaporates into the sea and joins the atmospheric circulation, the plantation, animal husbandry and ecological environment of the global inland areas will also be seriously affected in an unpredictable way.

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