The environmental impacts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster will last decades to centuries, warns a new Greenpeace Japan report. Man-made, long-lived radioactive elements are absorbed into the living tissues of plants and animals and recycled through food webs, and carried downstream to the Pacific Ocean by typhoons, snowmelt, and flooding.
“The government’s massive decontamination program will have almost no impact on reducing the ecological threat from the enormous amount of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Already, over 9 million cubic metres of nuclear waste are scattered over at least 113,000 locations across Fukushima prefecture,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Nuclear Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.
“The Abe government is perpetuating a myth that five years after the start of the nuclear accident the situation is returning to normal. The evidence exposes this as political rhetoric, not scientific fact. And unfortunately for the victims, this means they are being told it is safe to return to environments where radiation levels are often still too high and are surrounded by heavy contamination.”
The report is based on a large body of independent scientific research in impacted areas in the Fukushima region, as well as investigations by Greenpeace radiation specialists over the past five years. It exposes deeply flawed assumptions by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Abe government in terms of both decontamination and ecosystem risks. It further draws on research on the environmental impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe as an indication of the potential future for contaminated areas in Japan.
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The environmental impacts are already becoming apparent, with studies showing:
- High radiation concentrations in new leaves, and at least in the case of cedar, in pollen;
- apparent increases in growth mutations of fir trees with rising radiation levels;
- heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations and DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas, as well as apparent reduced fertility in barn swallows;
- decreases in the abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels over a four year study; and
- high levels of caesium contamination in commercially important freshwater fish; and radiological contamination of one of the most important ecosystems – coastal estuaries.
“There is no end in sight for communities in Fukushima – nearly 100,000 people haven’t returned home and many won’t be able to. The Japanese government should put its citizens first, the majority of who reject the restart of nuclear reactors. Many are demanding the only safe and clean options that can meet Japan’s needs – renewable energy,” said Ulrich.
Greenpeace has conducted 25 radiological investigations in Fukushima since March 2011. In 2015, it focused on the contamination of forested mountains in Iitate district, northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Both Greenpeace and independent research have shown the movement of radioactivity from contaminated mountain watersheds, which can then enter coastal ecosystems. The Abukuma, one of Japan’s largest rivers which flows largely through Fukushima prefecture, is projected to discharge 111 TBq of 137Cs and 44 TBq of 134Cs, in the 100 years after the accident.
Currently, a Greenpeace Japan led research team is investigating the radiation contamination of the ocean and river estuary sediments along the coastline of Fukushima. The underwater investigation is being conducted from a Japanese research vessel, supported by the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior. The Fukushima disaster is the single largest release of radioactivity into the ocean and one of only two Level 7 nuclear disasters in world history – the other being Chernobyl.