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article imageThe Fukushima Daiichi meltdown: Five years later

By Karen Graham     Mar 6, 2016 in Environment
Fukushima - It has been almost five years since that fateful day on March 11, 2011 when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northeastern Japan, creating a 40-meter tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown.
The meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was the largest ever release of radioactivity into the ocean, and one of only two level 7 nuclear disasters in the world to date, the other being the Chernobyl disaster.
The environmental and health impacts of the Fukushima disaster have been well documented over the past five years, from a study that showed children who were living near the Fukushima nuclear plant when the meltdown occurred may be developing cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times higher than normal, to studies that have shown mutations seen in wildlife and plants around the disaster site.
A TEPCO employee measures the radiation in front of the No. 2 and No.3 reactor buildings during a pr...
A TEPCO employee measures the radiation in front of the No. 2 and No.3 reactor buildings during a press tour at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on February 10, 2016
Toru Hanai, Pool/AFP/File
Even though plant manager Akiro Ono told reporters recently that conditions at the Fukushima plant were "really stable," the world cannot dismiss this comment as meaning everything is all right now, because it isn't. In a press release issued by Greenpeace Japan on March 4, 2016, we are told the environmental impact of the Fukushima disaster will be with us for hundreds of years.
Government's decontamination program
“The government’s massive decontamination program will have almost no impact on reducing the ecological threat from the enormous amount of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” Kendra Ulrich, senior nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said, according to EcoWatch. Ulrich cites the over 9 million cubic meters of nuclear waste scattered over at least 113,000 locations in Fukushima Prefecture.
Workers walk beside bags of contaminated earth at a collection site in Naraha town in Fukushima pref...
Workers walk beside bags of contaminated earth at a collection site in Naraha town in Fukushima prefecture on June 13, 2013
Toshifumi Kitamura, AFP/File
The removal of the nuclear waste and contaminated soil to other locations is doing nothing more than spreading radioactive materials from one place to another simply because japan has no other place to put the stuff. In November last year, 47 prefectures polled said they weren't really interested in becoming nuclear waste dumps, and you can't blame them.
It must also be noted that the Japanese government has been trying to find a site for a nuclear waste dump since 2002. However, despite all the hoopla, Japan has an even bigger problem, and that is the risks involved in keeping radioactive waste in temporary sites scattered around the country.
Five important findings in the Greenpeace study
But let's look at what Greenpeace Japan has uncovered in their latest news release. They have found high levels of radiation in new tree leaves, and in one case, in the pollen from a cedar tree. There has also been an increase in growth mutations in fir trees.
Back to the wildlife, there is documented evidence of mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations and DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas, as well as some evidence of reduced fertility in barn swallows. Overall, there is a decreased abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels over a four-year period.
The last item in the Greenpeace report is, in my opinion, one of the most troubling, and that is the high levels of cesium contamination in commercially important freshwater fish and the high levels of cesium in a vitally important ecosystem, coastal estuaries.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica rustica)  Farmoor  Oxfordshire.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica rustica), Farmoor, Oxfordshire.
Charles J. Sharp / Sharp's Photography
Radiation levels in the ocean
In December 2015, Digital Journal reported on the ongoing radiation measurements being taken off the Pacific coast of North America by citizen scientists and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). In that report, WHOI scientists found that cesium-137 levels had dropped along the coast of Japan from the extreme highs found right after the disaster.
But with the latest testing, the cesium-137 levels are still hundreds of times higher than the levels found off the coast of North America, showing that radiation-contaminated water is still getting into the ocean from Fukushima. So while TEPCO and the Japanese government continues to reassure its citizens of the safety of nuclear energy in the earthquake-prone country, the decommissioning of the broken nuclear power plant goes on, and radiation-contaminated water continues to drain into the ocean.
Hundreds of temporary storage tanks filled with contaminated water line the grounds of the Fukushima...
Hundreds of temporary storage tanks filled with contaminated water line the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant grounds.
(Satoru Semba
It should also be pointed out that the Fukushima plant site is running out of space to store those huge 10-meter tall steel tanks of radiation-contaminated water they are storing. The tanks now fill nearly every corner of the grounds, holding some 750,000 tons of water. The government says it is looking into some experimental techniques that would cleanse the water of a key radioisotope, tritium. This news makes this writer wonder when they decided to think about the issue of running out of space.
Currently, Greenpeace Japan is conducting an investigation of radiation levels in ocean and estuary sediments along the coastline of Japan. The underwater investigation is being conducted using a Japanese research vessel, supported by the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior.
More about Fukushima Daiichi power plant, five years later, greenpeace japan, Environmental impact, Cleanup
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