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Radioactive Waters

After the nuclear disaster of Fukushima in 2011 the international attitude towards nuclear power and its potential risks changed irrevocably. A magnitude-9 earthquake caused three of the six nuclear reactors of the power station to melt down, causing one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

The Japanese ex-minister for the Environment, Yoshiaki Harada has stepped down from his role in the government after a series of statements in relation to the increasing nuclear waste caused by the accident.

A constant stream of thousands of litres of water is pumped through the nuclear station to keep the impaired reactor cores from melting; this water is contaminated by radioisotopes and stored in special storage units in order to avoid harm to the population. The owner of the nuclear power station, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has been storing the radioactive residue in tanks that they predict will be completely full by 2022.

The company, which had already issued a statement in 2018 warning the government about the dangerous levels of tritium and other toxic chemicals, is currently working to properly deal with the issue. Tritium is a radioisotope of hydrogen that undergoes beta decay to produce helium.

Worryingly, high levels of the substance have been linked with an increased risk of cancer and other genetic mutations affecting small children and infants especially. Tepco is still building tanks in order to store the waste but estimates that the current rate at which they are building the storage facilities will be insufficient to hold all the nuclear residue in the near future.

As the Japanese government is threatened by an impending environmental crisis of monstrous magnitude, Harada has said that the only option available is to dispose of approximately 100 million tons of radioactive water in the Pacific. This announcement has been met with outrage by members of the international community. The South Korean government amongst others has voiced its concern about the possible impact this could have to its fishing industry as well as drinking water (tritium remains impossible to remove from the waste) and could have unheard-of consequences for not only humans but also flora and fauna.

Angelico O, Year 13

Illustration by Sharon Wang

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