The recent move by the Japanese government to release radioactive wastewater into the ocean has sparked major controversy and outrage over safety concerns. How safe will our oceans and food be now after this move?
On Aug. 24, Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began to pour wastewater from a damaged Fukushima plant into the Pacific Ocean in order to prevent leaks and clear up space as the plant is being prepared to be made inoperative. The plant had been damaged in the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, causing radiation to leak and rendering the plant unusable.
The controversial move, which had been announced since 2021, garnered strong criticism both at home and internationally. China condemned the actions in a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on Aug. 24th calling the move “an extremely selfish and irresponsible act in disregard to the global public interest.”
Needless to say, the concerns and criticisms are completely valid. Although Japanese officials have reassured the public by saying that the waters are filtered to the lowest levels of radiation to the point where it is safe and has been approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the truth is that we simply still do not know the full extent of the effect that the treated water will have on the environment and on the people. There could be detrimental effects in the long term to the people’s health and the environment, which Japan should be more considerate of as other East Asian countries also share the same water.
What will be the implications for those who continue to use products and get food from the ocean? Radiation and nuclear energy have extremely harmful effects on the body such as increasing their risks for health issues and diseases like cancer. While the treated water has very low levels of radiation, having little amounts does not mean having none in the water at all. The wastewater can constantly expose people to low levels of radiation which may affect them in the long term and future generations.
What about the food that people eat and marine life that comes from the ocean? Radiation from the wastewater can affect the life and marine life from the ocean and possibly contaminate it, which in turn affects the people who consume them on a daily basis and in large amounts. This is especially worrisome for fishermen and the fishing community, whose livelihood and work depend on the ocean, with their livelihoods and jobs possibly being impacted.
In addition, radiation is also detrimental to the environment. The Chernobyl incident serves as a prime reminder of this fact. The Chernobyl incident in Russia was one of the worst nuclear plant disasters to ever happen. During a test run, a reactor suddenly went out of control causing a large explosion. This caused a large amount of release of radioactive material into the environment, and the plant’s workers became ill due to high exposure to radiation. To this day, Chernobyl and surrounding areas are still off-limits and highly dangerous with radioactive areas and will take many years to possibly become habitable again due to large absorption of radiation in the ground.
With the Chernobyl incident serving as a grim reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy and radiation, why is Japan still proceeding with what it is doing?
Japanese resident Terumi Kataoka expressed her concerns in a protest on Thursday, saying “Who says tritium is not so bad, government scientists? That is why we are protesting and trying to stop the dumping of radioactive water into the ocean.”
And while numerous scientists and experts have come out defending Japan’s decision and reassuring the public that the water will not cause harm to anybody with the government even promising to immediately cease operations should any issues come up, which may be true, the truth is that there is still so much to be known about this process and how its long term effects will affect the health of the people. There are so many unknown factors that it is hard to just push those aside and be in favor of dumping radioactive wastewater into the sea.
People have a right to be cautious and worried about this course of action, as given previous nuclear plant incidents and the catastrophic effect they had on the environment and on the health of the citizens. Personally, I would be much more cautious about the small levels of radioactive waste still in the water.
As a project projected to last decades, there are many things that could go wrong with this move, and the consequences could be dire, with its effects being hard or impossible to reverse as time continues to pass. Future generations could be the ones affected and left trying to clean up the mess.
This is a serious decision that Japan is making, which not only affects its own country but others as well, which Japan has constantly reiterated that no harm will be done to the people and the environment. However, this is a planet that we all live in and share its resources, and we should treasure it as such, not as a place to dispose of dangerous waste with not much data on its effects and consequences.