What Happened In Fukushima?
On March 11, 2011 disaster struck the city of Fukushima, Japan. An immensely destructive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the coast, creating an almost 50-foot tsunami. Right on that coast, stood the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The plant was able to survive the worst of the initial quake, with backup systems kicking in to prevent a meltdown. However, the tsunami that followed continued to deal irreparable damage. The nuclear plant’s cooling systems failed for days straight, releasing several metric tons of radioactive material into the environment.
About 18,500 people died or disappeared during the natural disasters, and the city is still reeling from the radioactive damage. 160,000 more citizens were forced to evacuate, abandoning their homes, pets, and careers. The Fukushima meltdown was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
What’s Left Of Fukushima?
We have recently passed the 10 year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Despite the time that has passed, the Japanese government is still unable to fully reopen the villages and towns that reside within the original 12-mile evacuation zone. However, even if the original residents did wish to return, many aspects of their homes would be unrecognizable to them.
An enormous, concrete sea wall stands along the Pacific coastline. Blocking what was once a beautiful view, the wall holds in hopes of preventing any future tsunamis from impacting the still-standing, abandoned plant.
Though many citizens have had a chance to return home, their old lives were not waiting for them. Many had to decide between trying to rebuild in a potentially dangerous area, or starting over somewhere new.
Is The Wastewater Safe?
Since the meltdown at Fukushima, the Japanese government has been left with more than one million tons of wastewater from the destroyed nuclear reactors. The plant holds more than 1.25 million tons of wastewater in over 1,000 tanks. To make matters worse, the process of cooling the three reactors, still active and damaged from the meltdown, produces 150 additional tons of wastewater every single day. With storage space dwindling, the government began discussing potential solutions with diplomats from 22 different countries in late 2019.
Authorities put forth the idea of removing the most harmful radioactive materials from the contaminated wastewater, and dumping the rest gradually into the ocean. The Japanese Foreign Ministry claimed there were no objections to this solution at the time, but when the official plan was announced in April of 2021, the opposition came out in full force.
Who Opposes The Plan, And Why?
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga remarked that disposing of the plant’s wastewater was “a problem that cannot be avoided,” adding that the government will “take every measure to absolutely guarantee the safety of the treated water and address misinformation.”
However, many activists and concerned citizens alike are not consoled by the government’s assurances. In a recent statement, Greenpeace Japan voiced their disapproval of the plan, saying that it “ignores human rights and international maritime law.” The statement continued, explaining, “Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option, dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean.”
Additionally, the local fishing community and crews are firmly opposed to the plan. The level of fish these crews are able to catch and sell are already a fraction of what it was prior to the meltdown, and workers are concerned that disposing of the wastewater in this way will only feed the fears surrounding the safety of Fukushima seafood.
After meeting with Prime Minister Suga, head of the National Federation of Fisheries Hiroshi Kishi announced that his group would still be opposed to the ocean release. Shortly after, neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, expressed their own hesitations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a recent statement, “The Japanese side has yet to exhaust all safe avenues, disregarded domestic and external opposition, has decided to unilaterally release the Fukushima plant’s nuclear waste water without full consultation with its neighbouring countries and the international community.”
The U.S. State Department announced their own approval of the plan, stating, “In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards.”
What Happens Next?
At this point, Japan is faced with the challenge of altering the perceptions of its own people, as well as its neighboring countries. Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University who specializes in local governance issues, highlighted the lack of trust between the Japanese government and its people. “From my perspective,” he noted, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”Whizzco