The hazards of Fukushima: a more radioactive future?
There is increasing concern about the leakage of radioactive water from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant and rightly so. In addition to the previously reported 300 tons of radioactive groundwater that has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean everyday (most probably since 2011), there is now confirmation that 300 tons more of highly radioactive water has also leaked into groundwater over the past month. The Asia-Pacific region would have to be more prepared to accept a more radioactive future and to consider important aspects of domestic nuclear energy governance in Japan.
The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority has announced that the radioactive water leak is being raised from being an ‘anomaly’ (Level 1) to a ‘serious incident’ (Level 3) in the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). A ‘serious incident’ refers to ‘exposure in excess of ten times the statutory annual limit for workers’ with relatively low health hazard from exposure to radiation.This rating however has yet to be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Among the most confronting and alarmist of warnings from the scientific community is the impact of the Pacific Ocean currents on the circulation of the radioactive water from Fukushima. Imagine a continuously directed movement of ocean water flowing for thousands of kilometres circulating the world’s oceans and marine life. Radioactive materials maybe diluted over time in this vast ocean but there are still more studies that need to be carried out to confirm the radioactive contamination of the marine environment and marine species in the northern Pacific Ocean (or even beyond).
Second, the radiation dose of the water that was recently reported exceeds the average annual global limit for nuclear workers. It is so toxic that within 10 hours of exposure, anyone in proximity to the leak would likely suffer from radiation sickness including nausea and a drop in white blood cells.
Third, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) is now looking for help from the international community to stabilize and decommission its damaged reactors, when they should have asked for help right from the start. TEPCO’s reluctance to call out for help at the outset of the 2011 meltdown has led to the dire consequence of putting the Japanese nuclear energy sector in limbo.
Part of his attempt to renew nuclear energy to reboot Japan’s economy and consequently to save face, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now calling this a national concern, and has announced that a ‘swift and multi-faceted’ government strategy will be carried out to assist TEPCO. But more so, this should have been an international effort right from the start. Leaving the decommissioning of the reactor to its operator is not the most practical direction that the disaster’s managers took. Given the difficulties that TEPCO has been experiencing right from the 2011 meltdown (and even before that), TEPCO should not have been allowed to shoulder the responsibility of solely decommissioning the three damaged reactors. This begs the question whether external actors and the rest of the nuclear energy community should have extended its expertise immediately to deal with the disaster, even without TEPCO’s appeal for help. What would be worse to contemplate is that the Japanese nuclear energy community is just not prepared to deal with this kind of nuclear disaster.
Last updated on 27/08/2013