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Op-Ed
 

Nick Cunningham: Japan Dodges Tsunami, Ongoing Nuclear Cleanup Going Badly


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By: Nick Cunningham, Bulldog Blog, DC Bureau.org

Fukushima-Daiichi-storage-tanks-590x383.jpg
Over 1,000 storage tanks are located on site to hold contaminated water that continues to accumulate - See more at: http://www.dcbureau.org/201310289240/bulldog-blog/japan-dodges-tsunami.html#sthash.1OvA4ABn.dpuf
Oct. 28, 2013 - An earthquake off the coast of Japan revived fears about the safety of the radioactive waste stored on the site of the destroyed nuclear reactors in Fukushima. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 7.1 magnitude earthquake occurred about 200 miles off the coast of Japan on October 25 causing Japanese authorities to issue a tsunami alert for the region. Fortunately, the waves only reached about one foot in height, and the waters came and went without damage. Still, the event underscored the ongoing vulnerability of Fukushima’s nuclear waste more than two and a half years after a massive tsunami caused several reactors to meltdown in March 2011.

The latest tsunami may have passed without incident, but cleaning up the toxic waste left in the tsunami’s wake is another story. The Washington Post wrote in an October 21 article about the hapless efforts of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to get control of the cleanup. The site holds more than 90 million gallons of radioactive water. But, with its location right on the coast, the problem becomes incredibly difficult to manage because inland groundwater flows towards the ocean. As the water passes through the site, it becomes contaminated. TEPCO acknowledged that 400 tons of toxic water are dumping into the ocean every day.

The cleanup has thus far been alarmingly unsuccessful. In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 meltdown, TEPCO was pilloried in the press for corruption, mismanagement, and repeatedly misleading the world about the extent of the disaster. It seems to have learned little from the experience. In 2011 TEPCO declined to build a wall around the nuclear site that would shield it from groundwater flows because it feared the cost of the project would send its shareholders fleeing. Instead, the company continues to “spend irresponsibly on lobbying politicians, offering them free trips to nuclear sites that include meals and lodging in hot springs resorts,” according to The Washington Post.

TEPCO is locked in an unsustainable situation where it is storing radioactive water in hundreds of tanks hastily built on site. It can’t continue to accumulate such large amounts of water and still needs to figure out a way to remove radiation before disposing of it. Moreover, while data is still uncertain, many scientists fear the effects of radiation are already spreading beyond the immediate vicinity. As radioactive materials enter the marine environment, they could spread throughout the food chain.

TEPCO was bailed out by the government, and taxpayers are on the hook for the cleanup, which is now expected to last more than 40 years. Yet, as the article notes, TEPCO has done little to inspire confidence.

Nick Cunningham is a freelance writer based in Washington DC. He covers energy and environmental issues. You can read more of his writing at http://naturalcapital1.blogspot.com/, or follow him on twitter at @nickcunningham1.

Republished from www.dcbureau.org, a project of the Public Education Center (PEC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) charitable organization staffed by award-winning investigative reporters whose mission is to investigate previously overlooked news stories about significant issues—chief among them the environment and national security—and brings them to the attention of national and international audiences.

 

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