Thursday, February 20, 2014

Taking Hints from Fukushima

Three years ago, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant devastated Japan. At the time, Californians were terrified of being contaminated; by now we have all but forgotten the incident. Unfortunately, forgetting isn’t an option for the Eastern coast of Japan. Groundwater is constantly being contaminated by the site, and must be pumped out and stored in tanks to contain the damage. Although 340,000 tons of water have been collected, there is no stopping the “hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater that still flow unchecked into the Pacific every day.”

These tanks temporarily contain the problem, but are by no means perfect. Last week a leak in one of these holding tanks was discovered after one hundred tons of water escaped—water that had 3.8 million times the radiation contamination that Japanese drinking water standards allow, and contained significant levels of particles known to cause cancer.

Perhaps most worrying is the title of the article: “Worst Spill in 6 Months is Reported at Fukushima.” Clearly spills have been fairly common in the three years since the initial disaster, and if going six months without spilling one hundred tons of a highly contaminated, very dangerous material is considered an accomplishment, I’m a little bit concerned. It’s like seeing that the cheery “180 days since the last workplace accident!” tally has just been changed back to zero; it’s disconcerting. Cleaning up a nuclear power plant after a meltdown is obviously an extremely difficult and hazardous task, and it’s understandable that the company is running into trouble dealing with it—but the fact remains that eventually someone is going to have to. The question now is whether the “clean” energy the Fukushima plant once produced was worth the environmental repercussions Japan is now facing—consequences we should all be aware of. Perhaps we should take a hint from Fukushima as we decide where the future of energy is headed.

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