Is the Japanese Government Putting Power Over Environment?

Experts have sounded the alarm over Japan’s environmental wellbeing this week, as the country is storing 200,000 tonnes of radioactive water in makeshift tanks that are vulnerable to leaks. This is according to the operator of Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear power plant, who said that there’s no reliable way to check on the tanks or anywhere to transfer the water.


The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was inspected last week, with Japan’s nuclear watchdog members looking into the contaminated water tanks. This is the latest in a long list of environmental wellness concerns, following multiple recent accidents, leaks and breakdowns. These problems show just how vulnerable the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant site is, even though it has been more than two years since the powerful earthquake and tsunami set off meltdowns at three reactors.


Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised that his government would take a more active role in the site’s cleanup, and so this new announcement has raised questions about how seriously he has taken that pledge. The government is still pushing to restart the country’s nuclear power programme, and the Prime Minister headed out to the Middle East on Saturday to promote Japanese exports to the region, including nuclear technology.


However, opposition lawmakers have demanded that Mr. Abe stay home and declare a state of emergency. At an anti-nuclear rally outside Mr. Abe’s office in Tokyo, Yoshiko Kira of the opposition Japan Communist Party, which made significant gains in parliamentary elections last month, commented, ‘The nuclear crisis is real and ongoing, yet the government continues to look the other way. The government should declare a state of emergency right now, and intervene to stop the outflow of contaminated water.’


How the crisis at the Fukushima plant will affect Mr. Abe’s extensive popularity remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), may not be able to handle the increasingly problems at the plant. At the sprawling complex, Tepco has built almost 1,000 tanks in order to store as many as 335,000 tons of contaminated water. This water is the result of the coolant that the plant pumps into the reactors to keep the cores from overheating, as well as the groundwater that they pour into their breached basements at a rate of 400 tonnes a day.


Tepco has admitted that one tank has sprung a huge leak this week, which could spell disaster if the other tanks follow suit. The 36-foot-tall cylindrical tanks were constructed as a temporary repository for the growing amount of radiated water at the complex, but Tepco announced that the builders had used vulnerable rubber sealing and the tanks’ ability to withstand radiation was not tested. Noriyuki Imaizumi, the acting general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power division, stated that the leaked water can be carried to the sea by a nearby drain, and high radiation readings suggest that this has already occurred.


According to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which the Japanese government has ordered to more actively advise and monitor Tepco’s activities at the plant, the company needs to transfer the water into more durable vessels. However, an authority commissioner, Toyoshi Fuketa, said that after seeing the plant on Friday, the possibility of doing this quickly is ‘unrealistic.’ Tepco acknowledged that the water beneath the reactors is extremely contaminated. If it gets into the ocean, it will exceed even the disaster’s earliest leaks. Michio Aoyama, a senior scientist in the Oceanography and Geochemistry Research Department at the government-affiliated Meteorological Research Institute, admitted, ‘That prospect scares me. It’s the ultimate, worst-case scenario.’

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