The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Radioactive Waste in the Ocean

Sep 4, 2023

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the non-operating Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan, has announced that, beginning on August 24, it is discharging millions of tons of radioactive wastewater from this nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Twelve years ago, in March 2011, a powerful tsunami caused by the Tohoku earthquake heavily damaged three of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima. When the cooling system in the reactors was disabled, these reactors’ nuclear cores, made of processed uranium fuel rods, melted. To cool down the molten fuel and prevent it from exploding, TEPCO began to pump ocean water into the reactors.

The water used to cool down the nuclear cores makes direct contact with molten fuel, fuel debris and other radioactive substances and becomes contaminated with 62 highly radioactive chemicals. TEPCO claims that the filtering system it built removes most of these radioactive chemicals. But the company has not really demonstrated how effective its filtering system is.

In fact, TEPCO admits that it cannot filter out at least two of the radioactive chemicals, tritium and carbon-14. TEPCO claims that, since these substances are in diluted form, it would be safe to dump them into the ocean. But in reality, nobody knows how much these radioactive chemicals, especially tritium, that’s particularly harmful, would affect the environment worldwide—or even how much tritium will end up in the ocean. The company says it will discharge the wastewater over the next 40 years. But since TEPCO continues to pump ocean water into the reactors, it will also continue to dump the wastewater into the ocean indefinitely—unless another solution for cooling is found in the future.

TEPCO, one of the world’s largest privately-owned utility companies, has a long record of unreliability. Back in 2002, for example, the CEO and four other top executives of TEPCO resigned after it was revealed that the company had falsified the maintenance documents of 29 nuclear power plants, including those of Fukushima. In fact, the 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukushima would have been avoided if TEPCO had taken some very basic safety measures. For example, pointing to a similar earthquake and tsunami that had hit the northeastern coast of Japan about 1,100 years ago, experts had warned TEPCO several times that Fukushima’s wall to block waves from the ocean was not tall enough. TEPCO ignored all of these warnings.

Given TEPCO’s record of neglecting safety and getting away with it, we have no reason to believe this company’s claims today that the radioactive water it is dumping into the ocean is safe. But it’s not just TEPCO, of course. In fact, nuclear power plants all over the world are known to discharge radioactive tritium into rivers and oceans, along with other radioactive waste.

Even when it comes to highly radioactive, poisonous waste, capitalists have always chosen the cheapest way to deal with it—dumping it into the environment—in the name of profit. The capitalist drive for profit has made the world totally unsafe for all of us.