The Discharge of Fukushima’s Radioactive Water could be a Precedent for Similar Actions

Pinar Demircan

The author, Pınar Demircan (Ph.D. in sociology) is an independent researcher, Coordinator and nuclear editor at Yesil Gazete. Her earlier articles on our website can be accessed here.

The Discharge of Fukushima’s Radioactive Water could be a Precedent for Similar Actions [1]

Underlying the disregard for objections from global civil society and transforming the ocean into a nuclear waste dump lies a bigger goal inspired by capitalist practices that arise from its crisis: to achieve another threshold by normalization of cost-cutting measures for the sake of the nuclear industry.

While the climate crisis is rapidly turning forests and habitats of living creatures into coal and ash with a tiny spark of fire in Turkiye, Greece, and Canada, the planet’s seas, already polluted with plastics and waste, are also being recklessly infused with radioactivity, driven by profit and cost-centered policies. On August 24, within the framework of the procedures carried out by the Japanese government and TEPCO, the discharge of 1.34 million tonnes of radioactive water which is accumulated in tanks at the plant site, started.

The installation of a treatment system costing 23 million USD, the discharge of wastewater without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is being realized by foregoing safer alternatives such as solidification of wastewater into construction materials or long-term storage costing 100 times more that constitutes ecocide. Clearly, this method of release that is expected to be carried out over the next 40 years, indicates a systemic assault on the global ecosystem that is longer and more severe than presently apparent.

The Japanese Government is not telling the truth about ‘purification’

The discharge process of the wastewater resulting from the complete meltdown of three reactor cores at the Fukushima nuclear facility began in 2011 and is at par with the danger level ascribed to the Chornobyl disaster. This also highlights how the Fukushima discharge differs from the regular discharge processes of nuclear power plants and indicates the extent of danger that nuclear power plants pose. Furthermore, the radioactive isotopes treated in the accumulated wastewater is only half of the whole amount according to what was stated on the website of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

A detail that has been overlooked till today is that there is no information regarding the amount of discharge during this 40-year time frame for the disposal of radioactive water into the ocean. This might indicate that the discharged amount may even be equivalent to the period of, for example, 100 years despite the declared duration of 40. In addition, since the present objections have been disregarded, it is worth considering the potential impact of future oppositions at the end of the 40 years.

A threshold to be achieved

Apparently, over the next decade, the radioactive water discharged from Fukushima is anticipated to disseminate into multiple seas worldwide, encompassing the Marmara, Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Sea, which surrounds Turkiye. A recent scientific study [2] suggests that the evaporation in these seas will escalate industrial radioactivity levels in the ecosystem. Given this backdrop, it is important to ask why TEPCO, the Japanese government, and the IAEA continue to disregard the adverse impacts of the discharge, which also makes them responsible for the potential increases in cancer, DNA damage, increased miscarriages, hormone imbalances, and unhealthy future generations worldwide? Underlying the disregard for objections raised by global civil society, and transforming the ocean into a nuclear waste dump, lies a bigger goal inspired by capitalist practices that arise from its crisis: to achieve another threshold of the normalization of cost-cutting measures for the sake of nuclear industry.

How can we be sure of the exact amount to be released?

It is also possible to consider the above statement with the possibility of adding wastewater from the other nuclear power plants across Japan to the already 1 million 340 thousand tonnes of water accumulated over the past 12 years at Fukushima. While nuclear power plants operate under higher costs and have to cope with four times cheaper renewable energy production costs, the ocean dumping of the radioactive wastewater offers an easy solution for the nuclear industry. Crossing this threshold guarantees the capability to manage climate-induced hazards to nuclear facilities since now, societal consent has been obtained for this plan of action. Imagine how beneficial this course of action will be for the nuclear industry, with the IAEA promising its support for the industry – to the 410 reactors operating worldwide, approximately 50 reactors under construction, and 80 reactors [3] in various stages of maintenance, repair, decommissioning, and dismantling.

Take for example, Rosatom of Russia, the owner of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant which reached its final stage of construction for the first reactor in Turkiye. It has a long history of concealing the Mayak nuclear power plant accident, well into the 1990s. Furthermore, from 1948 to 2004, Rosatom discharged nuclear waste into the Techa River, thus reinforcing its already questionable track record, and also points to how the legalization of nuclear discharge might be beneficial for the industry. It is also easy to predict the potential impact of this approach in the Mediterranean region by a nation with an underdeveloped democratic system and institutional dynamics dominated [4] by political power. This is especially important since an exemption made for the Akkuyu NPP in the article which allows for the discharge water from the facilities around the Mediterranean temperature of the plant and allows the sea temperature to reach up to 35 Celsius and poses serious ecological challenges indicating that Turkiye violates Barcelona Agreement.

The Role of the IAEA

The example of Fukushima’s radioactive water discharge presents us a picture of a political power that has adopted the corporate management mentality prioritizing profits and industry interests under the guise of efficiency and profitability. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plays a vital role in ensuring that nuclear energy generation is conducted safely and within established guidelines. However, a leaked document [5] from the IAEA reveals that the agency, which declared its support for TEPCO and the Japanese government, advised them to refrain from making statements that could portray nuclear power plants negatively and disseminate information that influences the press and public opinion. As this scandal brings to light the deep connections between the IAEA, the Japanese government, and TEPCO, it is important to consider the role of the IAEA as a highly regarded global organization.

It is noteworthy to mention that the IAEA’s involvement in the nuclear industry stems from a confidential agreement WHA 12-40 [6] with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1959, stating that “whenever either organization proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement”. Consequently, the IAEA, established to promote the growth of nuclear power plants worldwide, refrained from disclosing any potential health hazards posed by these plants.

Obviously, it would be misleading to rely on the IAEA’s statements suggesting that radioactive wastewater does not pose any risk to global health. This information strengthens the likelihood that the IAEA did not reveal valid and precise radiation data regarding the Chornobyl accident and Zaporizhia nuclear power plant during the ongoing Ukrainian war either.

It is important to inform the global society that the IAEA, which focuses mainly on promoting nuclear power, should not be involved in discussions related to public health in line with the principle of separating responsibilities to avoid conflict of interest. Therefore, it is recommended that civil society should inform the international community about the content of the recently disclosed IAEA document and demand an end to the discharge of radioactive water from Fukushima into the ocean. Accordingly, it should be ensured that all processes involved in disposing radioactive contamination in Fukushima are subject to internal and financial control measures performed by a minimum of two separate units.

At this stage, it is essential to take measures by clarifying the issues emphasized by the non-governmental organizations following the processes, and it should be ensured that realistic solutions can only be produced with the involvement of a consortium of neighbouring countries such as South Korea, China, Taiwan and the Pacific Islands. In this regard, the process management for the construction of the steel dome shelter, which was completed in 2016 with financing by 40 countries that came together in 1997 to protect the exploded fourth reactor of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant from external weather conditions, can be taken as an example. [7]

Undoubtedly, the economic and administrative control mechanisms created for Chornobyl due to Ukraine’s lack of financial resources is not acceptable for the technology-giant Japan, which bears the costs of the disaster on its own. However, since global society has not entirely shown its commitment to changing the system, an in-system solution can prevent adding the radioactive disaster to the climate crisis before the transformation of life on the planet hits its constraints. In other words, claiming efficiency and profitability and institutionalization of the logic of ‘running the state like a business’, which has become the common discourse of political powers will at least help to achieve the rationality of emulated corporate management.


[1] This article is an extended version of the originally published article in the Yesil Gazette (Green Gazette) of Turkiye

[2] Nie, B., Yang, J., Yuan, Y., & Li, F. (2021). Additional radiation dose due to atmospheric dispersion of tritium evaporated from a hypothetical reservoir. Applied Radiation and Isotopes, 167, 109475

[3] See updated numbers

[4] , article 33,table 2






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