Even though the U.S. media has forgotten about it, radiation from the severely damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan is still a major danger. Reuters has discovered that the plant is still leaking radiation.
The latest danger is highly radioactive water from the plant that is seeping into the ocean. The water contains dangerous levels of radiation, Shinj Kinjo of Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority told the press. The water has broken through barriers and is seeping into the sea and moving towards the surface.
Kinjo told reporters that the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which owns the plant, is not doing enough to control the situation. Authorities are concerned that the water will soon begin flowing into a nearby bay.
The water comes from groundwater that Tepco pumps into the basements of ruined buildings around the power plant. This is done because radioactive debris in the buildings is hot and must be cooled down. The big concern now is that the water will reach the reactor and leak into the Pacific Ocean.
Radioactive Water Leaking Directly into the Ocean
A big danger is that the radioactive water could start coming out of the ground and pouring directly into the ocean at some point. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that contaminated ground water could reach the surface and start flowing into the sea very quickly within three weeks.
The frightening thing is that it is not the only radioactive material leaking into the ocean from Fukushima. Tepco recently admitted that a vast amount of radioactive tritium has leaked into the sea since the nuclear plant was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. What’s really bothersome is that Tepco doesn’t know how much tritium has leaked into the ocean at Fukushima.
Tepco reportedly has not done testing for another radioactive element that might be leaking into the ocean from Fukushima: strontium. Strontium is considered far more dangerous than tritium is. Tepco admits that strontium and another deadly radioactive element, cesium, have been released at Fukushima. Tepco has built a barrier that’s supposed to keep the groundwater in check, but the water is rising above the barrier.
Could it reach the U.S.?
The danger here is that the radioactive water could one day reach the U.S. and Canada. Debris from the tsunami has been washing up on American and Canadian shores for nearly two years. If debris can move across the Pacific, so can the radioactive water or fish and other sea life that have been contaminated by it.
The water would be a danger to the fishing industry and possibly to people living along the coast. One potential danger is prolonged exposure to the water, which could cause cancer and other problems.
Level of Danger Unknown
Scientists don’t know how much of a danger the water can be. Nor do they know how far the water might spread. It is possible that the water might be trapped in a bay.
This not the first time Tepco has dumped radioactive water into the ocean; right after the tsunami it dumped tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water directly into the ocean.
The potential ground water release has angered Japan’s neighbors and fishermen because it violates promises not to release more radioactive water that have been made by Tepco. Tepco has apologized to Fukushima area residents for the water releases.
Distrust in Tepco
Tepco claims that it is building a barrier and a bypass that will stop the water from reaching the sea. Few people in Japan believe the company’s promises because it denied that radioactive water was reaching the sea until tests showed that radiation had reached the ocean.
A retired engineer, Masashi Goto, told Reuters that he doesn’t think that Tepco’s efforts to contain the radioactive water will work. Instead, he thinks the company’s barrier will create a giant pool of radioactive water that will be an even bigger menace.
Still a Threat
This story indicates that Fukushima is still a threat to people in Japan and around the world. In addition to contamination in the ocean, the radioactive water could evaporate and lead to radioactive rain that could fall in the U.S. The radiation could also affect fish that people eat.
A long-term danger is that debris contaminated by the water may wash up on U.S. beaches, probably in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. Another problem is that seafood contaminated by the radiation could enter the food supply.
These stories show us that average people need to take some precautions against radiation. They also indicate that it is not a good idea to live near a nuclear power plant.
The dangers from such plants include radioactive groundwater and contamination that could span entire oceans. Worst of all, the catastrophes at such plants can last for years on end, and the radiation threat will not go away.
It also means that having some means of detecting radiation in your home would be a good idea. There is no telling when radioactive substances released by a catastrophe, even one halfway around the world, could reach your family’s home.
Obama Wants Nuclear Power in Your Backyard
This story might also get the Obama administration to rethink its plans to build dozens of small nuclear reactors all over the U.S. The current plan, which the press has ignored, is to have the reactors replace small coal-fired power plants in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The Department of Energy has given $452 million to a company called Babcock & Wilcox, which is building prototypes of the small reactors at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The administration is planning to create a network of factories to build the reactors. Both the factories and the reactors themselves could be a major radiation hazard, particularly because the reactors would be shipped around the country on trains, barges, and trucks.
The hazards from Fukushima should remind us how dangerous nuclear power is and to take steps to protect our families from its side effects.
Particularly since nuclear power might be coming to your town.