As a veteran environmental engineer, I regard the discharge of Fukushima wastewater a blatant violation of fundamental human standards which should be nakedly obvious to everyone. But there are plenty of specious rationalisations around to confuse common sense. A popular ‘argument’ is that nuclear contaminated wastewater will be diluted by the vast ocean, making its harmful effect insignificant. Furthermore, banning Japanese seafood is pointless because the ocean knows no boundaries; the discharge will end up in, say, Alaska one day. Should we also stop eating king crabs then? This kind of early 20th century reasoning threatens to reverse the basic premises of sensible environmental protection.
The oceans are much more critical to the human habitat than they may appear to people who don’t swim, sail, or eat sea food. That’s why all responsible societies treat the wastewater they generate before marine discharge. Not long ago, based on economic considerations and ‘expert opinion’, Hong Kong discharged rudimentarily treated sewage into the harbour for ‘marine treatment’, relying mainly on dilution and ‘natural decomposition’ to digest the mess we made.
There’s a dialogue on this in my novel Man’s Last Song (https://www.jamestam.net/copy-of-book-inner):
‘To them…money was to be made, not spent on toilet water. They built giant pipes instead to take it out to sea for marine treatment. Fancy that term — marine treatment! So assuring, almost organic. The smart ass must have had giggled when he came up with the term. Nature swallowed anyway, gagged. A sanitary headache was resolved through this fish-eat-pooh-man-eat-fish symbiosis.’
Any single discharge into the ocean could be made to seem negligible. To sample for residuals in the open sea would also be extremely difficult, if not pointless, at first. But if everyone does that, the only known habitat for humanity would be irreversibly damaged much sooner than we intuitively believe. Only when everyone who has the means (those who don’t yet have the means usually won’t produce much waste, fortunately) takes care of his own mess could the only known living space of Homo sapiens be sustained. Is this not common sense? Take a more everyday example. The negative impact on the urban environment due to one person littering is not worth mentioning. But all developed communities have laws against littering. Otherwise, the consequence can be easily imagined.
And what about Chernobyl? The USSR back in 1986 acted much more responsibly than today’s Japan, and work is still being done to contain radiation and store the waste. ‘Experts’ don’t seem to agree which of Fukushima or Chernobyl is more disastrous, and the mainstream corporate media are expectedly more alarmed by Soviet Chernobyl than Japanese Fukushima. But both accidents have been rated equally on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) as a ‘Major Accident’ — INES 7.
If Fukushima can discharge contaminated water into the sea, then Chernobyl should be fit for redevelopment into an amusement park after nearly forty years? Furthermore, raw sewage is far less harmful than the Fukushima effluent no matter how one looks at it. Perhaps the tens of thousands of wastewater treatment plants worldwide could be closed down and replaced by long pipes sticking out into the sea?
James Tam 11.12.2023