How Japan still struggles with the Fukushima nuclear waste

October 28, 2019 18:49
A file picture shows reactor units atop storage tanks for radioactive water at the Daiichi power plant in Fukushima. More than 8 years after a tsunami disaster, authorities are still grappling with the nuclear waste issue. Photo: Reuters

It's been more than eight years since the nuclear disaster occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan.

Yet even to this day, the Japanese government is struggling with the issue of nuclear cleanup, waste disposal and storage. To say the least, the threat is still very much there.

Earlier this month, Typhoon Hagibis swept across the Kanto region of Honshu, leading to deadly floods and landslides across the area.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that a temporary repository where some 2,667 bags of highly radioactive nuclear cleanup waste collected from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were stored was completely flooded.

As a result, a nightmare became a reality: a batch of the bags got washed into a nearby river about 100 meters away from the storage facility. And the environmental ramifications could be disastrous and far-reaching.

In fact it wasn’t the first time highly radioactive nuclear waste from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was accidentally exposed to the environment.

Back in 2015, heavy rain in Honshu washed almost 400 bags of nuclear cleanup waste into a river. Among them, 163 were broken while 80 were unaccounted for.

Apparently, the Japanese government hasn’t learned any lesson from the accident four years ago, and allowed it to happen once again.

To make matters worse, many local workers who handled the bags were cutting corners, and didn’t tie them tightly, not to mention that most of the bags, which totaled over 10 million in 2015, were only piled outdoors, unlike other nuclear waste handling plants which generally have facilities to store or cover the nuclear waste inside.

According to Japanese media reports, most of the bags containing the nuclear cleanup waste from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have not been handled properly. This suggests that the Japanese government and the subcontractors were negligent on the nuclear issue.

It may be a matter of time before the waste poses a huge threat to the environment again.

Given the fact that environmental damage caused by nuclear waste contamination can be both catastrophic and limitless, it is of utmost importance for mankind to learn the lesson of history and not to repeat the mistakes of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Commentator on Japanese politics