Opinion: Fukushima Nuclear Waste and Its Impact on Animals
Japan announced on April 13 2021 that it will release 1.25 million tons of treated wastewater contaminated by the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean. The government said it is the best way to deal with tritium and trace amounts of other radionuclides in the water.
Despite Tokyo's assurances that discharging wastewater will not pose a threat to people or the environment, the decision was roundly criticized by the local fishing community, environmental groups, and Japan's neighbors. Within hours of the announcement, protesters rallied outside the government offices in Tokyo and Fukushima.
Impact on animals and agriculture
Iodine, Strontium, Cesium, Plutonium, Krypton, and Xenon from nuclear accidents might have an impact on soil, vegetables, grain, milk, meat, and eggs. For soil, contamination would not be an immediate concern but proper management procedures can reduce problems. For vegetables, the greatest amount of contamination reaches vegetables directly from rainfall on leaves. For grains, the milling and polishing process will reduce the amount of contamination and grains will have lower concentrations of calcium and potassium than stems and leaves. For milk, dairy cows should be removed and fed with uncontaminated feed and water, and milk should be tested. For meat and meat products, bones should be removed because strontium is concentrated in bones, and most of the cesium can be removed by extracting water. For eggs, most chickens are raised in in-house facilities and the airborne contamination and feed are noteworthy.
More recommendation measures and guidance can be found in the Protective Action Guide in U.S (1977, 1982, and 1986) and Radiological Emergency Response Plan.
For aquatic animals, according to the research on the Chernobyl accident “radioecological conditions in the water bodies under investigation were in a state of non-equilibrium over a long period of time.” “Reduction in the 137Cs concentration proceeded slowly in most of the aquatic ecosystems. The effect of trophic levels which consisted of increased accumulation of radiocaesium by predatory fish was observed in various parts of the contaminated area.” Read more here.
According to the research on the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, biotic and abiotic factors affecting radionuclide accumulation in fish are clearly dependent on the ecosystem -- and they differ between lakes and rivers. Considering lakes and rivers separately when looking at the effects of radioactive contamination will lead to better and more accurate environmental risk management. Read more here.
In February, shipments of black rockfish were halted after one sample caught near Fukushima contained cesium far in excess of acceptable levels. Read more here.
More facts about animals in Chernobyl here.
Impact on the ocean
In the past, radioactive material has been dumped or discharged into the oceans by incidents from released radioactive waste from nuclear plants or nuclear-powered facilities. And in 2011, radioactively contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was pouring directly into the ocean.
“Studies from previous releases of nuclear material in the Irish, Kara and Barents Seas, as well as in the Pacific Ocean, show that such radioactive material does travel with ocean currents, is deposited in marine sediment, and does climb the marine food web. In the Irish Sea — where the British Nuclear Fuels plant at Sellafield in the northwestern United Kingdom released radioactive material over many decades, beginning in the 1950s — studies have found radioactive cesium and plutonium concentrating significantly in seals and porpoises that ate contaminated fish. Other studies have shown that radioactive material from Sellafield and from the nuclear reprocessing plant at Cap de la Hague in France have been transported to the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. A study published in 2003 found that a substantial part of the world’s radioactive contamination is in the marine environment.”
“But what impact this radioactive contamination has on marine life and humans is still unclear. Even the mass dumping of nuclear material by the Soviets in the Arctic has not been definitively shown to have caused widespread harm to marine life. That may be because containment vessels around some of the dumped reactors are preventing the escape of radiation. A lack of comprehensive studies by the Russians in the areas where nuclear waste was dumped also has hampered understanding. Two events in the early 1990s — a die-off of seals in the Barents Sea and the White Sea from blood cancer, and the deaths of millions of starfish, shellfish, seals, and porpoises in the White Sea — have been variously attributed by Russian scientists to pollution or nuclear contamination.”
“The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has reported that seawater containing radioactive iodine-131 at 5 million times the legal limit has been detected near the plant. According to the Japanese news service, NHK, a recent sample also contained 1.1 million times the legal level of radioactive cesium-137.”
Read more: Radioactivity in the Ocean: Diluted, But Far from Harmless.
Fukushima nuclear accident
On March 11, 2011, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggering a 30 ft tsunami struck the Pacific Coast of Japan. The force of the tsunami destroyed a great deal of the infrastructure along portions of the Japanese coast. The most notable damage from the tsunami affected the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The following prefectures are in the closest proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Fukushima, Gunma Ibaraki, and Tochigi.
After the Fukushima nuclear accident, the research “Agricultural implications of the Fukushima nuclear accident” was conducted by the University of Tokyo on the effects on agricultural farmlands, forests, rivers, animals, etc. The radioactive fallout in the soil is moving slower than directly after the accident, but it is difficult to remove. The river water flowing from the mountain shows very low radioactivity. Since the nuclear power plant accident occurred late in winter, the deciduous trees were not contaminated but the leaves of the evergreen trees were highly contaminated by the fallout. The radioactivity of mushrooms growing in the forest did not decrease with time to any great extent. The radioactivity concentration in grain was reduced in the process of milling, washing, and steaming. For dairy cattle, when contaminated haylage was supplied, the radioactivity of the milk increased after 14 days, and when the non-contaminated feed was supplied, the radioactivity in the milk was decreased. Similar results were found for animal meat, the radioactivity in the living animal was changing with the feeds. However, natural mating of pigs and wild boars is taking place in Fukushima and they may inhale or eat a portion of the soil when digging the surface of the soil to search for food, so the radioactive Cs in pigs or wild boars is much higher than that in cows.
Read more on the research here.
Japan’s Restrictions on food products
On March 19, 2011, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine contamination in dairy, fresh produce, and infant formula products. According to the data, the presence of radioactive iodine was five times the acceptable levels. In 2011, the Japanese government has ordered spinach, kakina, raw milk, flowerhead brassicas, head leafy vegetables, non-head leafy vegetables, fresh parsley, Chiba, Saitama, mushrooms, sand lance, tea leaves, yuzu, kiwi fruit, rice, bear meat, boar meat, shitake mushrooms, brick-cap mushrooms and pholiota namek, and dear meat. From 2012 to 2015, more orders were published on different products. Since 2015, the Government of Japan ordered a series of removals of restricted products.
The reaction of the IAEA, the U.S., China, and South Korea
In 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Japan's plan to release the water — or alternatively, to let it evaphorate into the air — was technically feasible, "routinely used by operating nuclear power plants worldwide," and soundly based on safety and environmental impact assessments.
The IAEA supports Japan’s decision to dispose of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and IAEA “stands ready to provide technical support in monitoring and reviewing the plan’s safe and transparent implementation.” The Director-General said that the Japanese Government’s decision "is in line with practice globally, even though a large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.” Read more here.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price commented in a statement that Japan "appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards." Read more here.
However, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) published Import Alert #99-33 on March 04, 2021 for products from Japan due to radionuclide contamination. The reason for the alert is because of “the public health concerns that are associated with radiation and nuclear contamination.”
Products from the indicated prefectures including the Fukushima, Aomori, Chiba, Gumna, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama Shizuoka, Tochigi, Yamagata and Yamanashi may be detained without physical examination. For example, from Fukushima, products are limited such as Raw Milk; Wild Aralia Sprout; Bamboo Shoot; Non-head type leafy vegetables (i.e. Japanese Mustard Spinach (Komatsuna), Garland Chrysanthemum, Qing-geng-cai, Potherb Mustard (Mizuna), Leaf Lettuce (red), Spinach and other non-heading leafy vegetables); Head type leafy vegetables (i.e. Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage and Lettuce); Flower head brassicas Vegetables (i.e. Broccoli and Cauliflower); Chestnuts; Wild Japanese Butterbur Scrape; Japanese Royal Fern; Kiwi Fruit; Koshiabura (wild tree sprout); Log-grown Shitake mushrooms; Log-grown Pholiota Nameko (outdoor cultivation) Wild Mushroom; Ostrich Fern; Pteridium Aquilinum (bracken fern); Rice; Turnips; Ume; Giant Butterbur; Wild Uwabamisou; Yuzu Fruit Salmon (landlocked) (excluding farm raised); Common Carp (excluding farm raised); Dace; Eel; Whitespotted Char (excluding farm raised); Bear meat; Beef; Boar; Cooper Pheasant; Green Pheasant; Hare Meat; and Spot-Billed Duck. Read more on the Alert here.
China slammed Japan for its decision to release radioactive water into the sea, and accused Tokyo of making a unilateral decision that could cause harm to health. China's foreign ministry said Tuesday in a statement that Japan was acting without concern for neighbors, "despite doubts and opposition from home and abroad." Read more here.
South Korea’s president ordered officials to explore petitioning an international court over Japan’s decision to release contaminated water from its wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, amid protests by fisheries and environmental groups. Read more here.