This Wednesday, March 11, marks the fourth anniversary of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. To this day, the outpouring of radioactive waste materials at the damaged facility continues unabated. In fact, it was recently reported that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been forced to admit that it failed to report a new radioactive rainwater leak at the facility. The leak was discovered last April, when the company noticed a spike in levels of radiation on the drainage system at the plant. In a televised press conference, a TEPCO official explained why the leak wasn’t reported immediately.
“This was part of an ongoing investigation in which we discovered a water puddle with high levels of radiation on the roof of the Reactor No. 2 building, and because this also happens to be one of the sources for the drainage system, we decided to report everything all at once.”
Cesium levels in the contaminated water were as high as 23,000 becquerels per liter, more than 10 times the radiation levels taken from other areas on the roof. The plan to contain the contamination is decidedly low-tech: sandbags that absorb radioactive material.
The governor of the Fukushima prefecture called TEPCO’s failure to disclose the leak as “extremely regrettable.”
One of TEPCO’s executive officers, Tsunemasa Niitsuma, met with local fisherman to apologize, but empty words were not enough to satisfy Masakazu Yabuki, head of the fishermen’s cooperative in Iwaki City.
“In order to settle this crisis as quickly as possible, I realized I had to compromise and to do that, I had to calm our fisherman and that’s because I trusted TEPCO,” Yabuki said. “But with this one act, they betrayed me.”
Cleaning up the nuclear disaster at Fukushima is going to take decades. In the meantime, the operators of the plant still have not figured out a way to stop the leaks and contain the ongoing rush of contaminants that are daily dumping into the Pacific Ocean. There are naysayers and nuclear proponents out there who poo-poo any concerns over things like dead sea lions washing up on California beaches, or reports from people like Ivan Macfadyen, an Australian yachtsman who reports that his 2013 sail to Osaka revealed that sea birds and marine life are gone in the waters near Japan. ”As you get closer up to Japan they’re all gone, they’re not there any more … Everything’s all gone, it’s just like sailing in a dead sea.”
Just after the event, TEPCO hastily procured storage tanks in which to deposit the groundwater used for cooling the damaged reactors. It took no time for thousands of tanks to dot the land surrounding the crippled nuclear facility. It was then found that the tanks were leaking due to shoddy construction. In an effort to manage the huge volume of water needed to cool the damaged reactors, TEPCO has been dumping the waste into the Pacific Ocean since May of 2014. Officials for the company say that the water is within safety limits. Given their record of lies and covering up the truth, it is difficult to believe anything they say any more.
Nuclear apologists are quick to point out that we live in radiation emitted from the sun every day, so what’s to fear? They fail to take into consideration that the radiation from the sun does not contain elements like cesium or plutonium or any of the other dirty by-products of nuclear fission. They fail to take into consideration that most of the radiation from the sun is absorbed by our atmosphere before it ever hits us. Additionally, when one seeks information regarding the effects of the radioactive output from Fukushima, all of the information saying there is nothing to fear and all is well has been disseminated by someone attached to the nuclear industry. They are quick to say that nuclear power is the answer to dirty fossil fuels and hand out assurances that the nuclear plants of today are safe.
To those people I say this: A nuclear power plant is a construct of human beings, and as such, is subject to error. Forces like earthquakes and tsunamis are things we cannot control. Nuclear power plants are also great vehicles for a determined terrorist to wreak havoc and cause mass destruction. Never mind the fact that we still have no safe way to dispose of the waste products that are the by-products of nuclear power. We bury the stuff and adopt an out of sight out of mind mentality. Because no one wants to live anywhere near a nuclear waste disposal site, there are few facilities to store it and a lot of it remains above ground, stored near the nuclear facilities that produced it. One can imagine that it would be a temptation to a terrorist looking to build a dirty bomb, particularly if that person had religious or political zeal fueling them and a desire to die for the cause.
But even without a terrorist threat, one needs to look no farther than the aftermath of Fukushima to understand what can happen when a nuclear facility experiences a catastrophic event. Now many of the same people who suffered the wrenching loss of family and friends are threatened with the possibility that the Japanese government may take their land to store the tons of waste that continues to accumulate.
The ongoing disaster at Fukushima provides a lesson in how human beings cannot control some of the forces we have put into play. It is the best and strongest case against the proliferation of nuclear power. Often touted as “clean” energy, there is nothing clean about Fukushima and there never will be.