CLAIRE GUTE WRITES — Ten years later, the effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan are still evident. Recent seismic activity has led scientists to believe that radiation levels in damaged cooling tanks at Fukushima’s nuclear plant are higher than previously believed. The damage is creating new issues for the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to address. The damage to the cooling tanks has resulted in leaking, although leaks are currently limited to inside the reactor buildings and have not reached the outside environment, yet.

What happened on March 11 of 2011? A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan’s east coast, marking it as one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded and the costliest natural disaster in history. As if the quake itself was not enough, the tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that followed took an extreme toll on the people of Japan. The nuclear disaster occurred due to colossal forty-foot-high tsunami waves. Their 100 MPH force caused the emergency generators to become submerged. Three of the nuclear cores melted and spewed nuclear radiation into the ocean and atmosphere. Eventually, the level of severity of the nuclear disaster rose from five to seven, “the highest level on the scale created by the International Atomic Energy Agency—placing it in the same category as the Chernobyl accident.

The effects of nuclear contamination still harm the people and wildlife in many ways, both in terms of human health and contamination of the food chain. The toxic damage not only occurred on land in close proximity to the plant but in ocean waters both nearby and beyond, to other oceans, thus harming the wildlife food supply.

History repeats itself. On February 13 of this year, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Japan, which caused further damage to the cooling water tanks which have been dropping in water level for years. Currently, 1,000 water tanks hold 1.25 million tons of cooling water—they still remain radioactive. Recent controversy has occurred due to the Japanese government’s mentions of gradually releasing some of this water into the sea due to a lack of space for more tanks. Although no formal plans have been made for such an action, TEPCO and the Japanese government believe it is the best option and will be “perfectly safe.” This has angered the local fishing community in Fukushima that is   “only now getting back on its feet after taking a battering in the wake of the 2011 disaster and the subsequent ocean contamination.” This year, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that radiation levels inside the damaged reactors are “exceedingly high” and worse than previously believed. TEPCO previously constructed an ice wall to subside and freeze the leaking, although this plan ultimately failed in 2018.

The tragic natural disasters in Japan that occurred in 2011 remind us that mother nature can wreak havoc in many forms at once. The Japanese government must carefully construct a plan regarding how it will proceed in the long-term to store the radioactive cooling water in order to avoid even more environmental harm. Although this unfortunate situation has led to criticism, some experts have suggested that it is safe to simply dump the water, but surprisingly, alternative options have not been mentioned. We cannot afford the same level of excess damage to the environment, the aquatic biome, the food supply and the people of Japan.

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