Tomorrow—March 11, 2023—twelve years will have passed since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex, a meltdown due to a massive, but not surprising, tsunami. Not surprising due to Japan's location in what is known to geologists as "the ring of fire," a powerful designation of the area around the Pacific Ocean where seismic activity is endemic. The Pacific shoreline of Japan is a very poor spot to build numerous nuclear reactors for that very reason.
And yet, after closing all reactors in response to Fukushima, the government has reopened some shuttered nukes, and plans to open still more. In spite of all the seismic risks, the huge radiation exposure from the initial Fukushima meltdown, and in spite of the terrible nuclear toll the country paid due to the US bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The government says they want to stop using gas and oil from Russia. If the Japanese government wants to do this, renewables are getting more affordable, better at their jobs, and more vital to the health of the flora and fauna on earth every day- and in fact, Japan has a huge, untouched capacity for offshore wind.
In the initial meltdown caused by lack of coolant and electricity during the tsunami in 2011, reactor cores—the part of the plant that actually houses the power production—released large plumes of radioactivity into the air. The area was evacuated, and some citizens have never returned home. The only way to prevent a release of toxic elements from the destroyed reactor cores is a constant coolant bath. Water is dumped onto the cores, becomes highly radioactive, and then must be isolated from the world. This has resulted in the huge water problem that exists today.
Radioactive water is the main waste issue right now. There is so much of it in tanks covering every square inch of the reactor site. The water is partially filtered by a system with the acronym ALPS. It is designed to remove the most toxic elements from the water: strontium, cesium, plutonium, and more. These most toxic products of nuclear reaction are currently accumulating in the form of truly horrific sludge. And still, nobody is suggesting a permanent solution.
In addition, the system was not designed to remove heavy water, known as tritium, and also leaves small amounts of radionucleides in the water. TEPCO, the company that owns the reactors, and the Japanese government are trying to convince the world that tritium-laced water is just fine and that millions and millions of gallons of tritiated water being dumped into the Pacific Ocean would be no problem.
Tritium is a form of water with an extra hydrogen atom—the dangers are very much in dispute. The nuclear industry and the Japanese government want to project a completely safe image of this radioactive element that is almost never found in nature. However, there are scientists who have linked high exposure to tritium to cancer risks.
The victims of the United States open-air nuclear testing—the islands in the Pacific such as the Marshall Islands from 1946-1958—are not pleased about the tritium-laced water that will be contaminating their fishing grounds if this huge, multi-year release is allowed to happen. The radioactive load from the testing is still so great that some of these islands have never been reinhabited. South Korea, North Korea, and China have expressed concern. Japanese fishers from the area around Fukushima have pleaded with the government to store this stuff, and not dump it into the Pacific, but Japan seems determined to dispose of this contaminated water. They are exclusively using the word "treated," not radioactive, for the water.
At a time when the United States is again throwing huge sums of money at the nuclear industry—to the tune of $6 billion to rehabilitate old reactors, many of which are the same model as those that failed so badly in Japan—we need to remember that the timeline for decommissioning Fukushima—stopping the nuclear chain reaction in the damaged reactor cores—remains 30-40 years, as it was the year after the meltdowns. This sounds an awful lot like: we don't know what the hell we can do to stop this.
The nuclear industry has posited itself as an answer to climate change. And it is true that nuclear power is not coal. Those who prefer corporate control of our energy system, instead of the small-scale wind, solar, and other alternatives that we can install and use to generate our home power, will continue to promote nukes.
When we are in a time of political instability, when threats to reactors like we have witnessed in Ukraine are very real, it is time to decommission and isolate the reactors and the poisons that have already been created. If there is a system collapse, who will maintain the nuclear reactors around the world?
Please, anyone who believes that nuclear is the answer to climate destruction, think of Fukushima.