Long forgotten, it’s far from over. In fact, it’s getting worse, and, in 2020, it will be back in the news.
Playing off the 2020 Summer Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting the show that his country is recovered from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It’s not working: with barely seven months to go before the games begin, the issue is still too hot for some to handle.
In March 2011, an undersea earthquake set off a tsunami that engulfed the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant on Japan’s east coast.
The 40-foot wave knocked out the plant’s emergency generators, sparking three nuclear meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions that flushed radioactive water into Southeast Asia’s oceans and blew a radioactive plume sky-high, which drifted across the Pacific Ocean, coating island chains and the U.S. mainland with nuclear waste that is still detectable.
The land around the Fukushima site has cooled enough that some people have been allowed to return to their homes. But political temperatures still run hot.
China, South Korea, and Taiwan have banned any food imports from the Fukushima prefecture; 21 other countries have at least a partial ban on produce from there. South Korea plans to bring its own food to the Olympics to ensure that its athletes don’t eat food contaminated with nuclear waste.
To emphasize Japan’s return from the nuclear ashes, the Olympics’ opening competition will be held in the Fukushima prefecture.
But the schedule has been arranged so that Western athletes won’t be part of those games – probably to ensure no qualms about the site would make headlines in Europe and the U.S.
Japan’s plan to dump tens of thousands of tons of radioactive water from the disaster site into the Pacific Ocean isn’t helping to calm the diplomatic waters either.
The Fukushima cleanup, slated to take 40 years, has overwhelmed TEPCO, the utility that owns the plant. About 1,000 metal storage tanks crowd the site, holding radioactive water that has been used to keep the radioactive piles cool. Each tank fills up in about ten days and holds up to 1,200 tons of fluids.
So far, technologies to remove radioactive elements from the water have failed. Crews are steadily building more tanks to hold the ever-rising tide of “hot” water, but, according to Japan’s environmental minister, TEPCO will run out of room by summer 2022 and will have “no alternative” but to divert new radioactive water into the ocean. Ocean-dumping is also being promoted by Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) as a cost-cutter.
The NRA says that the diluted wastewater will contain less than one-thousandth of the radiation a person absorbs just by walking around anywhere on the Earth. But TEPCO admitted that the levels of Strontium-90 in some tanks is more than 100 times the limit the Japanese government has deemed safe.
Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that settles in bone and causes cancer; once it enters the lower levels of the food chain, it’s virtually guaranteed to take up residence in humans. The dirty water also holds tritium, which damages DNA and other biochemicals when ingested.
South Korea expressed its outrage over the dumping prospect to Japan’s ambassador and to the Olympic organizing committee. The radioactive release would pervade South Korea’s fishing grounds, affecting more than 300 species of sea life. Symbolic of its displeasure, South Korea has announced plans to double its testing of some Japanese food imports.
But Fukushima isn’t the Pacific’s only nuclear time bomb.
Plutonium is leaking out of an 18-inch-thick concrete “coffin” that holds three million cubic feet of radioactive soil and debris in the Marshall Islands, an isolated chain 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 open-air nuclear tests on the islands and dumped the resulting trash in a concrete-lined hole in the ground.
Rising sea levels are eroding the cylinder, which reportedly now “bobs up and down with the tides” and shows cracks in the concrete dome covering it.
Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years and causes radiation sickness, cancer, and other maladies even in small doses. A steady stream leaking into the Pacific Ocean could render vast swaths of the sea a no-go zone.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups are sounding the alarm. But journalists, always distracted by the latest personality dramas, aren’t hearing it.

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