Two and a half years after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the discovery of new leaks in the plant’s defense system has caused international alarm and emphasized the importance of a nuclear-free future. Toyko Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) recently revealed that approximately 300 tons of highly radioactive water has leaked over the past month from storage tanks built in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster. The water contains 80 million Bq/liter of radioactive material – which is more than 8 million times the amount found in safe drinking water. This new development comes shortly after TEPCO admitted that it is struggling to stop radioactive groundwater from seeping into the ocean. Officials estimate that approximately 300 tons of radioactive water is flowing into the Pacific Ocean daily.
According to Greenpeace, a recent poll found that 91% of the Japanese population does not believe that TEPCO is capable of dealing with the nuclear disaster independently. In response to the worsening crisis, Japan’s central government has decided to take charge:
“We’ve allowed Tokyo Electric to deal with the contaminated water situation on its own and they’ve essentially turned it into a game of ‘Whack-a-Mole,’” Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters on August 26. “From now on, the government will move to the forefront.”
The Fukushima nuclear disaster is the largest since Chernobyl in 1986. Women living in highly contaminated areas in Chernobyl were affected by serious health conditions; such as leukemia, breast and thyroid cancer, chromosome disorders and various birth defects in their children. The potential health affects at Fukushima are equally as dangerous. The new storage tank leak is so heavily contaminated that a person standing less than two feet away would receive a radiation dose five times the acceptable exposure for nuclear workers – within just one hour.
Laureate Jody Williams visited litate, a small town to the northwest of Fukushima, on June 17, 2012. She described a nearly post-apocalyptic scene:
“The invisible poison of radiation is everywhere: it has changed Iitate forever,” Jody said, “Beautiful homes sit empty. Rice paddies now look like waving fields of tall grass.”
Since September 2011, a sit-in dubbed the “Anti-Nuke Tent Plaza”, has been held daily outside of the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Tokyo. A lawsuit by METI has recently been filed against two of the leading protesters, ordering them to vacate the premises and seeking damages for “unauthorized use of space”. Among the Tent Plaza protesters is Setsudo Kuroda, a veteran activist from the No Nukes Fukushima Women’s Group.
Kuroda appeared alongside six other Japanese women in the acclaimed documentary, Women of Fukushima. The film shows the women providing brutally honest accounts of the Fukushima accident and the affect it has had on their lives, homes and families.
Scientists predict there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting the Tokyo region, home to 12.9 million people, in the next 4 years. It is frightening, then, that Japan’s nuclear industry continues to push nuclear power. Nuclear fuel rods packed in a building that could collapse if another earthquake should hit contains 14,000 times the radiation released in Hiroshima.
On the one year anniversary of the triple disaster, the Laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative released a statement urging world leaders to switch to low-carbon, nuclear-free energy sources:
“The unknown magnitude, scope, and consequences of leaked nuclear radiation casts a dark shadow on Japan’s people, especially women, and its future. Fukushima exposed the inability of nuclear operators and regulators to protect people from nuclear catastrophes— and once again demonstrated to the world that no nuclear reactor is safe.”
Women of Fukushima documentary film.
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know, National Geographic, August 7, 2013.
Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant leaks: What you need to know, CTV News, August 23, 2013.
Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Update for August 23rd to August 25th, 2013, Greenpeace, August 27, 2013.
Anti-nuclear protestors being sued by government say their democratic freedoms being violated, Japan Daily Press, August 28, 2013.