Nuclear water: Fukushima still faces contamination crisis

February 25, 2016 by Harumi Ozawa, Quentin Tyberghien
Greenpeace nuclear expert Shaun Burnie says Fukushima is facing an "enormous nuclear water crisis"
Greenpeace nuclear expert Shaun Burnie says Fukushima is facing an "enormous nuclear water crisis"

Fish market vendor Satoshi Nakano knows which fish caught in the radiation tainted sea off the Fukushima coast should be kept away from dinner tables.

Yet five years after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl there is still no consensus on the true extent of the damage—exacerbating consumer fears about what is safe to eat.

Environmentalists are at odds with authorities, warning the huge amounts of radiation that seeped into coastal waters after a powerful tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, could cause problems for decades.

The Japanese government is confident it has stemmed the flow of radioactive water into the ocean, but campaigners insist contaminated ground water has continued to seep into the Pacific Ocean, and the situation needs further investigation.

"It was the single largest release of radioactivity to the marine environment in history," Greenpeace nuclear expert Shaun Burnie told AFP on the deck of the campaign group's flagship Rainbow Warrior, which has sailed in to support a three-week marine survey of the area the environmental watchdog is conducting.

Fukushima is facing an "enormous nuclear water crisis," Burnie warned.

Greenpeace is surveying waters near the Fukushima plant, dredging up sediment from the ocean floor to check both for radiation &
Greenpeace is surveying waters near the Fukushima plant, dredging up sediment from the ocean floor to check both for radiation "hotspots" as well as places that are not contaminated

He added: "The whole idea that this accident happened five years ago and that Fukushima and Japan have moved on is completely wrong."

Safe to eat?

Existing contamination means fishermen are banned from operating within a 20-kilometre (12.4-mile) radius from the plant.

Although there are no figures for attitudes on seafood alone, the latest official survey by the government's Consumer Affairs Agency showed in September that more than 17 percent of Japanese are reluctant to eat food from Fukushima.

Nakano knows it's best for business to carefully consider the type of seafood he sells, in the hope it will quell consumer fears.

"High levels of radioactivity are usually detected in fish that move little and stick to the seabed. I am not an expert, but I think those kinds of fish suck up the dirt of the ocean floor," he told AFP from his hometown of Onahama by the sea.

Greenpeace is surveying waters near the Fukushima plant, dredging up sediment from the ocean floor to check both for radiation "hotspots" as well as places that are not contaminated.

The government insist the situation is under control, but Greenpeace says stopping the groundwater flow is crucial to protecting
The government insist the situation is under control, but Greenpeace says stopping the groundwater flow is crucial to protecting the region

On Monday, the Rainbow Warrior sailed within a mile (1.6 kilometres) of the Fukushima coast as part of the project—the third such test it's conducted but the closest to the plant since the nuclear accident.

Researchers Tuesday sent down a remote-controlled vehicle attached with a camera and scoop, in order to take samples from the seabed, which will then be analysed in independent laboratories in Japan and France.

"It's very important (to see) where is more contaminated and where is less or even almost not contaminated," Greenpeace's Jan Vande Putte told AFP, stressing the importance of such findings for the fishing industry.

Local fishermen have put coastal catches on the market after thorough testing, which includes placing certain specimens seen as high risk through radiation screening—a programme Greenpeace lauds as one of the most advanced in the world.

The tests make sure no fish containing more than half of the government safety standard for radiation goes onto the market.

Under control

The 2011 disaster was caused by a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake off Japan's northeastern coast which then sparked a massive tsunami that swamped cooling systems and triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, run by operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).

Today, about 1,000 huge tanks for storing occupy large parts of the site, but as 400 tonnes of groundwater a day flows into the damaged reactor buildings, many more will be needed.

TEPCO have said they are taking measures to stop water flowing into the site, including building an underground wall, freezing the land itself and syphoning underground water.

The government too insist the situation is under control.

"The impact of the contaminated water is completely contained inside the port of the Fukushima plant," Tsuyoshi Takagi, the Cabinet minister in charge of disaster reconstruction, told reporters on Tuesday.

But Greenpeace's Burnie says stopping the groundwater flow is crucial to protecting the region.

"What impact is this having on the local ecology and the marine life, which is going on over years, decades?", Burnie asked.

He added: "We can come back in 50 years and still be talking about radiological problems" at the nuclear plant as well as along the coast, he said.

Explore further: Fukushima chief confident new disaster won't threaten clean-up

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3 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2016
"radiation levels above the sea are relatively low despite being only 1.5 km from the plant.."
"fish in waters near the crippled Fukushima" "..radiation levels were not high enough to be detected by a dosimeter used during the session."
Greenpeace is surveying waters near the Fukushima plant
Greenpeace should also examine wind/solar farms that are killing millions of birds and bats, ruining natural landscapes, and releasing chemical substances into the environment.
1 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2016
Willie, stop it!

You are trying to minimize a tremendous tragedy, one which will not show many of its effects for a generation or more.

My god, have you no sense of proportion?
5 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2016
minimize a tremendous tragedy
the tragedy was caused by the tsunami, not by the power plant.
"No one has died as a result of the Fukushima radiation leakage"
"No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation"
" not have caused any increase in the cancer rate."
"No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation — a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming years is expected to be so low as to be undetectable"
"No one has died from radiation at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex."
5 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2016

A "tremendous tragedy"? Even though experts agree that the event caused no deaths and will have no measurable impact on public health, now or in the future? And yes, they know that it will have no measurable impact in the future (i.e., future generations), given the (low) amount of public exposure that occurred. The effects of radiation are very well understood.

Meanwhile, fossil fueled power generation continues to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths *annually* (i.e., ~1000 deaths every single day), and is one of the largest sources of global warming emissions (while nuclear has negligible global warming impact).

Given this, your statement about Willie lacking a sense of *proportion* is particularly ironic (and absurd). The negative impacts of fossil fuels are *thousands* of times larger than any associated with nuclear, accidents included. Fossil fuels inflict more harm than the Fukushima event *every day*.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2016
This article almost entirely used Greenpeace members as its source of information. Highly biased, and non-credible, to say the least. I'm surprised to see such practices in an article published by

The facts are that radioactivity levels in all fish outside the immediate area of the facility are negligible, and that even within the immediate area, most fish pass the extremely stringent radioactivity limits imposed by Japan after the accident. People's refusal to eat fish from the region have no rational basis. Especially given that all fish caught have to go through radiation screening.

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