Thursday 29 August 2013

A New Zealand response to Fukushima

Three-eyed fish for dinner kids
By Sam Judd

28 August, 2013

While we struggle with the effects of earthquakes here in New Zealand and squabble over insurance claims, the effects of the tsunami on the other side of the ring of fire two and a half years ago are threatening our oceans.

During the huge earthquake of over nine on the Richter Scale and disastrous tsunami which followed, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered terrible damage and ever since, has been discharging radioactive water into the sea.

The tsunami destroyed the nuclear reactor's cooling system, forcing the ill-prepared Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to pump vast quantities of water through the reactors.

Of course, water is very hard to contain, especially when some of the sites that it is passing through are too radioactive for workers to even touch them.

So what do they do? They pump the waste into the ocean.

So despite David Lange's much revered policy that has banned nuclear activity in our country and become a bi-partisan apolitical policy that Kiwis are proud of, we may end up with tainted seafood because of ill-prepared and poorly managed efforts in Japan.

According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, that initial breakdown caused "the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed."

Already, the crisis is being compared to Chernobyl, but the fact that Fukushima is right on the water means that nations across the Pacific are fearing that it will impact their fisheries and wellbeing.

Over a year ago, in a study off California, every Bluefin tuna that was caught was shown to be contaminated with chemicals from Japan. Since then the situation has worsened considerably.

Elizabeth Grossman, a scientist from Yale University says that the signs are showing that nuclear material is already moving up the food chain.

This nuclear stuff is so potent that it can affect seafood (particularly migratory species) thousands of miles from the source. One report said that a sample contained 1.1 million times the legal level of radioactive cesium-137.

Cesium causes cell damage (a gateway for cancer, which many are expecting will increase in the Pacific Rim because of this) and nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding.


The radioactive water is pouring into the Pacific because the storage tanks that TEPCO built were shoddy. If they had built the right type of tanks in the first place this would never have escalated to this point.

All this time, the carefully managed PR response has been that there is no risk, but, just like the outrage that the world has when Japan says that slaughtering hundreds of whales is for scientific research, this is no longer going to wash.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has finally said that the disaster is "in some respects" beyond the plant operator's ability to cope but despite this, they have not sought assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency even though it has been proffered.

I would have thought that there should have been some consultation with neighbouring countries before Japan unilaterally decided that they would dump all of this waste into the ocean rather than store it on land.

It feels to me like they are exporting an environmental problem to the Pacific Ocean, which no-one should have the right to do.

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