Greenpeace says Fukushima reactor water can damage human DNA if released

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Fukushima reactor water if released could damage human DNA, says Greenpeace - We The World
Workers at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station work among underground water storage pools on 17 April 2013 (Image courtesy of IAEA Imagebank via Flickr, under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to quickly decide on the fate of the hundreds of tons of reactor water which is piling up in the Fukushima nuclear plant, as pressure to decide increases.

Suga, in his international visit to three nations, said Japan would like to make a decision responsibly and as soon as possible, because “we cannot postpone the issue forever,” the PM said while wrapping up a press conference in Jakarta, local media reported.

In 2011’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The reactors were destroyed to the core and since then it has needed hundreds of tons of water per day to cool the facility.

But the magnanimous volume of water is now soaring up beyond the limits of storage capacity in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant.

Space is expected to run out by Summer 2022 since as of September this year, a total of 1.23 million tons of water is stored and it continues to grow in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Japan was already under pressure to decide on what to do with the radiation-laden water, but the COVID-19 pandemic in between dramatically delayed the crucial decision that will have long-lasting impacts on local communities and ecosystems.

Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. which operates the nuclear plant says the ‘treated’ water is filtered using an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) to remove contaminants other than tritium, which is less toxic.

But a recent Greenpeace report says TEPCH’s claims about the treated water is misleading.

The nuclear power plant operator has already stated that tritium cannot be filtered through an on-site filtration system, and Greenpeace adds, along with this toxic substance, radioactive carbon would also be discharged along with the water.

The Japanese government tends to refer to the water as treated like TEPCH, but the term hides the presence of the highly radioactive element present in the water from the purview, Greenpeace says.

Carbon-14 — the radioactive carbon present in nuclear reactor water, when discharged, gets incorporated in all living matters, Greenpeace says in the report – ‘Stemming the Tide 2020: The reality of the Fukushima radioactive water crisis.’

“It concentrates on fish at a level thousands of times higher than tritium. Carbon-14 is especially important as a major contributor to collective human radiation dose and has the potential to damage human DNA,” the report states.

TEPCH has confirmed Greenpeace that their filtration does not remove the radioactive carbon.

Local fishermen and neighboring nations like China and South Korea have expressed worries since the Japanese government started to mull prospects of discharging the water into the sea by the end of this month.

The contaminated water from the plant has already leaked and made its way into the local sea life. Traces of radioactive elements were detected in tuna caught off the shores, even in as far as California.

The dilemma

The fate of the radioactive carbon-laden water has been a matter of dilemma for the Japanese government since the nuclear plant was ravaged by the tsunami.

Shaun Burnie, author of the Greenpeace report and senior nuclear specialist with the group’s German arm accused the Japanese government of ‘deliberately holding up’ years of important information on the radioactive elements in the water.

“They have failed to explain to the citizens of Fukushima, wider Japan, and neighboring countries such as South Korea and China that the contaminated water to be dumped into the Pacific ocean contains dangerous levels of carbon-14,” he told the Guardian.

“These, together with other radionuclides in the water will remain hazardous for thousands of years with the potential to cause genetic damage. It’s one more reason why these plans have to be abandoned.”

UN Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak in an Opinion piece with Japan’s Kyodo News wrote how Japan’s upcoming decision on the fate of the radioactive water will show the nation’s morals in saving nature, people.

“Setting aside the duties incumbent on Japan to consult and protect under international law, it saddens me to think that a country that has suffered the horrors of being the only country on which not one but two nuclear bombs were dropped during war, would continue on a such a path in dealing with the radioactive aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster,” Tuncak wrote.

He also stated, releasing the water in the sea would inflict ‘irreversible damage’ to the local seafood, and the communities that subsist on it. “No amount of money can replace the loss of culture and dignity that accompany this traditional way of life for these communities,” he wrote.

What could be done

If not the present thousands of tanks where the radioactive waters are stores, Japan should ideally store the same in 10,000-tonne capacity tanks on land.

When the water is stored for 120-years, tritium levels would decay to less than 1,000th of the starting amount, while the radioactivity of the other radioisotopes would also reduce, experts say.

This is a relatively short and manageable period of time when it comes to nuclear waste.

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