August 30, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Japan is right to release water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. We also look at the use of GPS-enabled trackers for prisoners in Odisha, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is Japan right to release water from the Fukushima nuclear plant?
A lot can go wrong when a disaster strikes a nuclear plant. One doesn’t need to be an expert to know this. Even watching the acclaimed HBO show about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster should suffice. The ramifications pertain not just to the short term but to the long run as well. While the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan wasn’t nearly as deadly as Chernobyl, it’s still seen as a major event.
Japan’s plans to release treated water stored at the plant have caused controversy. Authorities are confident they’ve taken every precaution and adhered to all safety protocols and standards. However, locals, some officials, and even other countries aren’t pleased. They see it as reckless and life-threatening. Who’s right?
On Friday, March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, just off Honshu island. Several parts of the country were devastated. It was so powerful that it shifted the Earth off its axis. The resulting tsunami swept over Honshu, killing over 18,000 people and wiping away towns.
At the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the coastal defences were easily breached by water and the reactors were flooded. As radiation began to leak, officials began to create an exclusion zone that had to increase in size as the leak continued. More than 1.5 lakh people were asked to evacuate the nearby areas.
When the quake hit, all reactors shut down automatically. However, this isn’t enough to stop a plant from generating heat. There’s “decay heat”. It amounts to 6-7% of the heat produced when the plant is fully operational. While this heat does deplete relatively quickly, the reactors must be kept cool.
The backup power kicked in at the Daini, Onagawa, and Tokai plants and the reactors began to cool. At Fukushima Daiichi, this didn’t happen since the backup power failed. It was now the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The plant, located on the coast, was designed to withstand a tsunami of just over 5 metres. On that fateful day in 2011, the tsunami was around 15 metres high. Some experts pointed out that the plant was ill-equipped to withstand such an event. Some even said the resulting meltdown was preventable.
When the reactors couldn’t be cooled, the nuclear fuel began to melt. Hence, radiation was released into the environment in the following days, by accident and on purpose. It was either through leaks or officials releasing some to relieve the rising pressure. Radioactive water also leaked into the Pacific Ocean.
Concerning radiation-related deaths, the picture is mixed. A 2013 World Health Organisation (WHO) report said the disaster won’t cause any observable increase in cancer rates in the region. In 2021, a United Nations report said no adverse health effects were documented among Fukushima residents. However, residents remain unconvinced. Even with restrictions no longer in place, many haven’t returned.
Over the next 3-4 decades, thousands of workers will be needed to remove nuclear waste, fuel rods, and over 1 million tonnes of radioactive water kept at the site. The water used to cool the reactors was mixed with groundwater and rain and stored in over 1,000 tanks. They’ve run out of room and need to release some of that treated water into the ocean.
Despite assurances from officials of the water being heavily treated and filtered, locals and others are angry at the decision.
VIEW: It’s safe to do so
The release of water will be done in phases. The first phase is scheduled between now and March 2024. It’ll likely take 30 years for the process to be complete. While there are understandable concerns, scientists and other experts have sought to quell any fears. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety review concluded that the plan was consistent with its safety standards. The report also showed the discharge will have a negligible radiological impact on the environment and people.
Let’s talk about tritium. The water is treated through an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). This removes almost all radioactivity except the chemical tritium. Before its release, Japan will dilute the water to reduce tritium levels to below regulatory standards. The IAEA, which has a permanent office at Fukushima, also cited an independent on-site analysis that showed tritium levels below the 1,500 becquerels per litre operational limit. That’s six times less than the WHO’s limit for drinking water.
The question is, can people actually drink this water? According to environment and geological sciences professor James Smith, in theory, yes. Physicist David Bailey, who measures radioactivity, agreed. As far as the environmental impact is concerned, there’s nothing to worry about, according to scientists. Tritium is actually produced naturally as part of environmental background radiation. It travels via rain and rivers into oceans. The tritium is further diluted when the wastewater is released into the ocean. It would be no different than normal seawater.
COUNTERVIEW: It’s too risky
Apart from residents, some scientists are still wary of the plan to release the water. For Professor Emily Hammond, an energy and environmental law expert, the question goes back to tritium. She said it’s still unclear what’s deemed safe, even at low levels of exposure. Despite the IAEA’s processes and standards, it doesn’t translate to zero environmental or human impact. In December 2022, the US National Association of Marine Laboratories said Japan’s data wasn’t convincing.
Greenpeace criticised Japan’s decision. According to them, it disregards scientific analysis and violates the human rights of communities in the region. They also criticised the IAEA for failing to investigate the ALPS process, which supposedly ignores the radioactive fuel debris that melted down. One of those is the radioactive isotope carbon-14, which can damage human DNA. They also say there was no comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment since there’s a risk of harm to neighbouring countries. In fact, China recently banned seafood imports from Japan.
In the aftermath of the disaster, reports suggested the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which ran the plant, were cagey about the meltdown. For many Pacific Island countries, there’s already a deep distrust due to decades of nuclear testing in the region. For Japanese fishermen, it’s a matter of their livelihoods, and they aren’t happy. JF Zengyoren, the nationwide federation of Japan’s fisheries cooperatives, said this could have a catastrophic impact on the country’s fishing industry. China’s ban will only add salt to their wounds.
- Fukushima disaster: What happened at the nuclear plant? – BBC
- Analysis: The legacy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster – Carbon Brief
- IAEA Finds Japan’s Plans to Release Treated Water into the Sea at Fukushima Consistent with International Safety Standards – IAEA
- The science behind the Fukushima waste water release – BBC
- Japan announces date for Fukushima radioactive water release – Greenpeace
- We unpacked Japan’s plan to release Fukushima wastewater – NPR
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Japan’s decision to release treated wastewater from the Fukushima plant is right.
b) Japan’s decision to release treated wastewater from the Fukushima plant is wrong.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
India Is in an Existential Crisis Because Criminals of Partition Went Unpunished
For the Left:
Strategic interventions take time to bear fruit
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Shina cultural centre (Jammu and Kashmir) – Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated the ‘Shinon Meeras’ Shina Cultural Centre, a collaborative effort by the Indian Army and Bandipora district administration. This initiative celebrates the Dard-Shina community through digital displays, exhibits, textiles, and interactive boards. Sinha praised the Army’s partnership with renowned institutions and commended their work in preserving this cultural heritage.
Why it matters: The sand art at the centre will depict Operation ERAZE, the 1948 Indian Army mission for Gurez liberation. An amphitheatre seating 150, along Kishanganga River, will host local cultural dance performances on weekends. The centre pays homage to the Dard-Shina community’s artistic heritage, showcasing their culture and traditions globally. It’s India’s first Dardis museum, tracing Shina culture, language, and Gurezi lifestyle. Expected to draw travellers, the centre offers sections for exploration and community storytelling, fostering tradition preservation.
Mysuru Dasara (Karnataka) – Chief Minister Siddaramaiah shared that the acclaimed music director Hamsalekha will inaugurate this year’s Dasara festivities in Mysuru. The first batch of Dasara elephants, led by Abhimanyu with the golden howdah, arrives on September 1, welcomed at Veeranahosahalli in Nagarahole.
Why it matters: Heading the Dasara High-Power Committee, the Chief Minister announced Hamsalekha’s inauguration of Mysuru’s Dasara after marking 100 days in office with a temple visit. The government had already promised grand celebrations. Minister HC Mahadevappa, overseeing Mysuru district, will lead the elephants’ welcome and Gajapayana launch. Elephants, accompanied by families, will stay near the palace, receiving a formal welcome on September 4, as part of the buildup to the Dasara finale.
GPS alternative for bail (Odisha) – Odisha aims to pioneer the use of GPS-enabled trackers for non-heinous under-trial prisoners (UTPs), potentially making it India’s first state to do so. The ankle-worn device, costing around ₹10,000 to ₹15,000, boasts tamper-proof features. It triggers alerts if UTPs breach set boundaries, prompting law enforcement action and bail cancellation.
Why it matters: Odisha may end up easing jail crowding and saving state funds. The GPS technology, if approved, could also enhance prison security by managing high-risk criminals’ movements. Around 65% of Odisha’s UTPs face offences with up to seven years maximum imprisonment. The move aligns with Supreme Court recommendations to avoid arresting such offenders. This system promises government cost savings by reducing accommodation, security, and administrative expenses.
Highest FDI (Maharashtra) – Maharashtra has maintained its lead in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by topping the chart in the first quarter of the current financial year. The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) released these figures. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis credited Chief Minister Eknath Shinde for making Maharashtra an attractive investment destination.
Why it matters: In April-June, Maharashtra led with ₹36,634 crore in investments, followed by Delhi (₹15,358 crore), Karnataka (₹12,046 crore), and Telangana (₹6,829 crore). Last fiscal year saw ₹1,18,422 crore FDI, with ₹1,14,964 crore in 2021-22. Deputy CM Fadnavis noted the state’s recovery after a dip in FDI during Uddhav Thackeray’s tenure, reaffirming Maharashtra’s top position due to corrective measures.
Opposing Palm oil plantations (Meghalaya) – Despite a nationwide effort to increase palm oil production, Meghalaya is standing out due to concerns about its impact on biodiversity and farmers’ opposition. Key figures like James K Sangma and Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh are against the drive due to its possible ramifications for the state’s biodiversity. Other major oil-producing states participated in the National Mission for Edible Oils – Oil Palm initiative, with processing companies like Patanjali Foods, Godrej Agrovet, and 3F participating with farmers.
Why it matters: James K Sangma opposes it due to concerns about biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods. Sangma, formerly the forest and environment minister, highlights Meghalaya’s vital role as a carbon sink for India and emphasises the need for greener alternatives. The state’s indigenous population is against deforestation for palm oil, advocating a climate-focused approach. India’s push for self-sufficiency in palm oil, despite rapid expansion, raises biodiversity issues.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
15,097 – Between April 2022 and March 2023, over 32,000 tech workers moved to Canada, out of which 15,097 came from India, followed by Nigeria and Brazil.