The Fukushima disaster: still an open wound

The decision of the Japanese government to release tons of radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean

Ten years from the earthquake and  the tsunami which, on March 2011, caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government announced to want to release more than 1 million tons of water contaminated with radioactive substances in the Pacific Ocean. In particular, it was the alarm launched by the energy company Tokyo Electric Power Co. to  press the Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to start the dispersion of contaminated water in two years. In fact, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. provided that no later than the second half of 2022 there will be no more place in the tanks which actually contain the contaminated water, used during there years to cool reactors which were damaged during the incident. 

What happened in Fukushima

On 11 March 2011,  a magniture 9.1 earthquake, the most powerful ever registered in Japan, occurred along the East Coast of the country, arriving to the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Dai-chi. In answer to the earthquake, the security systems of the nuclear power plant activated with success: nuclear fission reactions were interrupted and reactors were cool thanks to the activation of the emergency generators. However, the real problem, which caused the nuclear disaster, was that the earthquake provoked a tsunami with waves tens of meters high which, hurling the Fukushima nuclear power plant, distroyed the generators that allowed to aliment the reactor coolant systems. To protect the local population from the radioactive waves, the Japanese government emptied almost 200 thousands of people in the nearest locations. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. did everything it could to cool plant water but, in the following days, various reactors blew up, destroying some parts of the plant. Until today, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. collected in big tanks the water used to cool the nuclear fluel and the rain stored during the years, now contaminated by radiation. The Fukushima incident was classified as "catastrophic" in the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, sharing the highest level (7) together with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

Ten years after: the decision to release contaminated water in the Ocean

Currently, tanks built over the years around the plant contain about 1,25 million tons of water contaminated by radioactive substances. The problem is that the space to build new containers seems running low and, in particular, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimated that no later than the first half of 2022 the contaminated water will fill all the tanks now in use. Moreover, the energy company reported the need to use spaces occupied by big containers to reuse new plants for the management of radioactive materials of the plant.

These are the reasons which push the japanese government, ten years from the disaster, to choose to release in the sea contaminated water, decision which the Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga defined "realistic and inevitable to obtain Fukushima recovery". Despite not having delineated yet a precise plan to release the contaminated water in the Ocean, Tokyo ensured the process will be gradual, with a duration of about 40 years, and it will be constantly supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which defined the solution "technically practicable". The Japanese government also hightlighed that althought the water is already filtered in Fukushima tanks, before the release, they will provide to dilute it further, to reduce the radioactivity in respect of international law.

The strategy announced by Tokyo is not a surpirse, because in the past other nuclear power plants had already followed this strategy with minimum impact. But if various scientists did not show themselves to be opposed to the release of Fukushima water in the Ocean, other scholars are condemning the Tokyo decision together with a group of environmentalists, the fishing industry and some country near to Japan. For example, the Chinese Foreign Minister stated his disapproval, sustaining that the Japanese strategy is "extremely irresponsible and it will dramatically damage the international public health and security". Similarly, the South Korean government said the decision could "directly or indirectly influence the security of the Korean population and the surrounding area". Also Taiwan and the environmental organization Greenpeace criticized the Tokyo decision, while the United States supported the Japanese government highilighting that the strategy respects the international low about nuclear. Finally, it was the Japanese fishing industry to strongly oppose the contaminated water dispersion in the Ocean, fearing that consumers of fish caught in Fukushina, alarmed by the possible effect of radioactive substances, decide to stop to buy their products.

The Japanese government took this difficult decision to release contaminated water in the Ocean, pushed by the strong necessity to stop dramatic consequences of the Fukushima disaster. Infact, there are still about 35 thousands of refugees because of the incident and the radiaction levels in some cities are already really high. However, the oppositors to the strategy sustain that the Ocean contamination could have consequences just as serious as on the environment and the people health. So the debate is still opened, because also among scientists there are conflicting opinions about the repercussions the Tokyo strategy could have.

Translated by Giorgia Melis

Sources consultater for present article:

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  • L'Autore

    Margherita Camurri

    Margherita Camurri studia International Relations and Global Affairs all’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

    Margherita si è diplomata presso il liceo linguistico Alessandro Manzoni di Milano, dove ha approfondito lo studio della lingua e della letteratura inglese, cinese e spagnola. In particolare, l'appassiona lo studio del cinese, e per questo, al liceo, ha deciso di trascorrere un semestre in Cina.

    Oltre alle lingue, i suoi interessi sono la lettura, i viaggi e l’arte.

    Per quanto riguarda il futuro, le piacerebbe occuparsi di questioni umanitarie e poter dare il suo contributo ai paesi e alle persone più in difficoltà, ragione per cui ha già svolto esperienze di volontariato in Italia.

    Ad Aprile 2020, ha cominciato a collaborare con Mondo Internazionale occupandosi della sezione Asia e Estremo Oriente nel progetto Framing the World. In seguito, è diventata anche Junior Researcher per GEO, ed è entrata a far parte di MIPP in qualità di Policy Analyst.

    Margherita Camurri studies International Relations and Global Affairs at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart.

    Margherita graduated from the Alessandro Manzoni language school in Milan, where she studied English, Chinese and Spanish language and literature. In particular, she is passionate about the study of Chinese, therefore, in high school, she decided to spend a semester in China.

    Other than languages, her interests are reading, travelling and art.

    As regards the future, she would like to deal with humanitarian issues and to give her contribution to struggling countries and people, which is why she has already done volunteer experiences in Italy.

    In April 2020, she began collaborating with Mondo Internazionale writing for the Asia and Far East section in the project Framing the World. Later on, she became a Junior Researcher for GEO and she joined MIPP as Policy Analyst.


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