Radioactive Seas

Officials believe contaminated water leaked into ocean near damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors

| posted on July 23, 2013

A 2005 shot of Brendan Margison surfing in front of the now-damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Photo: Aichner

The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) recently confirmed that contaminated water from the Number 3 nuclear power reactor at Fukushima has likely been leaking into the ocean for the past two years. In March of 2011, a massive earthquake and deadly tsunami ravaged much of Japan and three of the six nuclear reactors in Fukushima melted down. In a recent statement, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the NRA, said he believes that groundwater near the plant is leaking into the basement of the damaged reactors, becoming contaminated, and eventually making its way out to sea. Neither the NRA nor TEPCO (the organization that runs the Fukushima plant) have been able to detect where the leak is coming from or been able to stop it.

“I think contamination of the sea is continuing to a greater or lesser extent,” Tanaka told a reporter from Reuters recently. “It was contaminated at the time of the accident, but I think it has been continuing for the last two years. Coming up with countermeasures against all possible scenarios is a top priority. We’ve seen for a fact that levels of radioactivity in the seawater remain high, and contamination continues—I don’t think anyone can deny that. We must take action as soon as possible.”

In the past, TEPCO has been vocal in stating that contaminated water had not been leaking into the ocean. But recently, they switched positions, stating that contaminated water had indeed leaked into the sea and apologizing to the people of Fukushima. A recent radiation test conducted by TEPCO showed a soaring amount of radioactive cesium in an observation well near the damaged plant. According to TEPCO, over the course of three days this month the radiation levels in the well increased 90 fold, which brought the levels to more than 150 times Japan’s safety standard. However, recent tests of seawater were reported as normal.

Hawaii’s Kekoa Bacalso, who traveled frequently to Japan in the past, has vowed not to surf anywhere near the affected area for years to come. “Japan is such an amazing place, but when you hear that they still don’t have a handle on the radiation problems at Fukushima, you have to do a double-take. It’s been two years since the disaster and they’re just now admitting that contaminated water has been leaking into the Pacific.” exclaimed Bacalso. “I’m baffled. I absolutely love Japan, but I won’t be surfing or traveling near Fukushima for a while because of this.”

Kekoa Bacalso used to be a regular to the shores of Japan, but he won't be heading back due to the increasing levels of radiation in their water. Meanwhile, the radiation from Fukushima could potentially make its way across the Pacific to Bacalso's home on the North Shore, where it could someday effect waves like this at Backdoor. Photo: Noyle

Hiromi Matsubara, executive director of the Japanese chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, describes the situation at Fukushima as dire and worries that the situation could get worse.

“Massive amounts of radioactive water is stocked inside the Fukushima Daiichi Plant. The water is primarily used to cool the reactor. TEPCO is running out of a place to store the water and there were a few occasions when they publicly announced the possibility of intentionally discharging this contaminated water into the ocean, but only after they adequately decreased and treated the radiation level below the legal limit,” said Matsubara. “Obviously, local fisherman, unions, citizens, NGOs, and the Surfrider Foundation strongly opposed this plan and it has been put on hold.”

For Keito Matsuoka, a Japanese surfer from the town of Sendai, the news of the ongoing problems at the reactor have forced him to lose faith in his government’s ability to handle the situation. “I don’t know what to believe anymore. There are so many conflicting reports from the government. One day you’ll hear that the radiation levels are low, and the next you hear about the recent spike we had. The town where I’m originally from, Sendai, is located near Fukushima. And even though the government says that it’s safe to go in the area, I don’t trust them. I can’t surf my home break more than a few times every month because I’m scared of the radiation.”

  • A Concerned Californian

    First, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people, families, and surfers of Japan still affected by this terrible and ongoing disaster. But there needs to be some kind of accountability (national, or, if need be, international) for Japanese corpo giant TEPCO for continually ignoring the warning signs at Fukushima leading up to the tsunami. Not to mention their obfuscation/piss-poor management of the nuclear disaster after the tsunami.

    Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up in the age of widespread corporate malfeasance, but I do not believe a word TEPCO says. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew all along that they were leaking radiated water, but they just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I’m sure an uninformed public is much better for their bottom line than an informed public. When corporations prioritize profits over accountability, terrible things happen. And this time, it’s happening on a global scale, which affects all of us.

    All this is a roundabout way of asking, does anyone know the effects Fukushima’s ocean radiation will have on California coastal waters now/in the future? Anyone know Surfrider’s stance on Fukushima ocean radiation reaching California shores?

  • Trystan

    Well too bad everyone is too distracted by the iphones and what not. Looks like nobody has done thier research and found that the radiation has already hit hawaii and california. NRC is keeping thier mouths shut about american radiation affects due to big lobbyist pay-offs. It has entered the marine ecosystems and agriculture of both states. Guess what the end result is….in 5 to 10 years from now there will be massive increases in thyroid and sarcomic cancers. I reckon it will be too late to say anything when your more worried about your kids dying from eating radiated fruits and veggies. Heres to you corporate America!

    • David F Puu

      Trystan really nails it in terms of explaining the chain of blame as it were. GE built those reactors. One of the engineers who worked on the Japanese project install originally, is in our group. What he explained regarding intent then, when some were strongly suggesting the reactors not be placed in the flood plain, was to no effect. (Ironically, Fukushima was to be shut down. A newer plant was to go online soon, up coast from that location) They still did it there and beyond. This is all a part of doing business based on short term profit (and election) cycles rather than long arc risk assessment and investment strategies. We really ought to examine how we regulate and manage business structure. This would solve some of the issues that become large scale problems in event of oversight and incident. This was ALL done under what many consider to be strict Regulatory Control. Hard to regulate a flawed system and expect that regulation will fix a crack in the design theory.

  • Mik

    This is no longer a Japanese business/government problem. It is an international problem because it is going to contaminate the ocean around Japan with radioactive water/waste, and the ocean currents, as we know, will spread it around the world. An international task force must be put in place immediately, because TEPCO is basically wishing this away when it is clear that it is already out of control. They have not been able to stop the meltdown, and they have no where to put the huge amounts radioactive water from trying to cool the reactors, and the amount of water isn’t disposable already. The world needs to face this fact, because the radioactive tubes/material is going to burn down into the earth and into their water supplies, and the cooling water is going to go into the ocean. This is a disaster far far more serious that what happened with the BP Gulf oil tower, because radioactive waste is far more dangerous. This event should be in e headlines of every paper in the world, because actually, we have never faced a problem like this. The media is ignoring it because nuclear power advocates have power and money and don’t want this in the headlines. TEPCO executives should all be arrested, and a UN team has got to find a way to defuse this. Look, I am no expert, but at the same time I know enough to put 2 and 2 together, and they add up to 0.

  • David

    I remember watching this event unfold on the news and wondered why there wasn’t immediate international support to maintain the structure and keep a handle on the situation. Now the radioactive materials are probably in the food chain. Terrible and tragic.

  • dgb

    ‘Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition scored a decisive victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, ending the opposition’s control of the Upper House and giving him a solid majority in both houses of the National Diet’

    Look. Only 52% of the population voted – the third lowest rate since the end of the 2nd world war. The Japanese public have voted in the same party that has controlled Japan since 1955, except for a 3 year period at the end of US occupation and the 3 year period from 2009 to 2012; the same party that built Japan’s 52 reactors, some very cleverly on seismic faults; the same party that, as policy, plans to restart the 50 reactors that are currently offline, despite the fact that with only two online and record summer temperatures, there have been no electrical shortages this summer. Let’s face it, the Japanese are sending a very strong message…and that message is they don’t care.

  • Adam

    Well done Surfer for posting this. Radioactive tuna have already been found off California.
    There is a deep sea kelp forest at Corona del Mar that now contains concentrations of radiation that are 250 times higher than levels found in kelp prior to the Japanese nuclear accidents.

    Everyday the leaking continues. People need to know these radioactive particles do NOT all fall to the bottom of the ocean. Many types float in the top ocean currents meaning this effect the beaches of California and Hawaii.

    Is there any private testing of local beaches being done? I would really like to know. I honestly believe that surfing in the Northern Pacific Ocean may become dance with death soon. Imagine if this leak continues for 10 years?

    • GRLCowan

      The tuna are indeed radioactive, but they always were. If you read the papers on which the Huffpo article was based — , — you will see in each one’s Table 1 a 40K column with much larger numbers than the adjacent 134Cs and 137Cs columns.

      K stands for potassium. Potassium-40 is a natural radioisotope, half-life 1.28 billion years, long enough that an atom the Earth incorporated when it formed decayed just now in your left hand. 134Cs and 137Cs stand for the two cesium radioisotopes that got out of Fukushima.

      If there is a continuing leak —

      How could there not be one? Would TEPCO management say there was one if there wasn’t? Yes, they might. Keep in mind that the Japanese government is making billions of dollars on natural gas revenue that it wasn’t making before the Fukushima meltdowns. They gave it an excuse to shut down its citizens’ nuclear power stations, and it often parachutes senior civil servants into management positions at nuclear utilities, where they say damaging things. Damaging to their supposed employers, helpful to the government to which they are truly allied.

      If there is a continuing leak, and every radioactive atom in Fukushima eventually gets out, this will increase ocean radioactivity by a tiny fraction, just as a Fukushima station that was a solid block of salt would eventually increase ocean salinity by a tiny fraction. So what you “honestly believe” is simply false, and if it *was* an honest belief, you will repeat the good news I have given you, because it *is* good news.

  • Carlos Manoel Souza

    Water blue thats , surfing, that’s ok ! nice tube !

  • Scoobydude

    Thanks for covering this topic. It’s much bigger than saving trestles. This is about saving much of the North Pacific surf spots and the food chain for billions of people over the foreseeable future. It’s mind blowing how this is a subdued and-yet-much-bigger-than Chernobyl event, but no media covers it and people shrug it off. BUT ANYWAY, it’s pretty dire that contaminated cooling-water storage is running out. Anyone in Japan familiar with the power of hemp?! I’m sure. Cap those tanks hydroponic style and/or transform the radioactive leachfields with industrial hemp crops to absorb and break down the radioactive particles before it gets into their aquifers (if it hasn’t already) or at least this avoids having to dump that water in the Pacific (which is a mind numbing consideration of theirs…a crime against humanity IMO). Creative solutions are needed. Hemp is a simple solution (read for related story; this guy talks about it too Although creativity and simplicity are next to impossible avenues of action for big bureaucratic institutions like first-world governments and among most engineers (a la the NRC). The public has to get pissed! There is far too much inaction on the most important environmental issues ever faced by humanity, and yet everyone keeps sh**ting out kids without considering the world they are leaving them.

  • matt

    Call me a skeptic and a cynic and a conspiracy theorist, but if you read between the lines here, it sounds to me like TEPCO has been dumping contaminated water into the ocean, and is now trying to play it off like it’s a “leak.”

    …”recently confirmed that contaminated water from the Number 3 nuclear power reactor at Fukushima has likely been leaking into the ocean for the past two years.”

    “In the past, TEPCO has been vocal in stating that contaminated water had not been leaking into the ocean. But recently, they switched positions…”

    …”TEPCO is running out of a place to store the water and there were a few occasions when they publicly announced the possibility of intentionally discharging this contaminated water into the ocean…”

    “I don’t know what to believe anymore. There are so many conflicting reports from the government. One day you’ll hear that the radiation levels are low, and the next you hear about the recent spike we had.”

    • David F Puu

      Matt, is correct. Tepco and the Nation of Japan, GE and the US State department are employing something called Plausible Deniability

  • David F Puu

    You guys are a bit late on the gun here. This disaster features three reactor cores that melted down initially, went to groundwater and began flushing the marine environment with multiple radiant contaminants. Recent developments indicate there is even more going on that has different and greater ramifications. With regard to the stored contamination laden water. That began to be jettisoned two months ago. Testing personnel died instantaneously on site at the storage facility.

    Keep in mind that the Tohoku quake occurred April 7, 2011, so this incident has been seeding the two currents which the Fukushima Daichi plant is at the headwaters for, since that time. You do well to tell people about this but it is far greater in threat than many may realize. I do work for a BioTech company that was contacted to develop a means of remediating heavy metal (nuclear) contaminant out of the water column which we actually succeeded in doing with our NASA affiliates. Unfortunately Japan and the US based NRC and State Dept had no real intention of deploying it due to some rather complex political and monetary issues. Bottom line. Permanent damage.

    Further bad news? 17 of these type reactors are located in the coastal flood plain of the US East coast out of a total of 33 Plutonium-Uranium fueled reactors. During Sandy, a NOTHING storm (Cat 0-1) 6 reactors went to emergency shut down and four went to crises. Wakey wakey!

    • Econ

      You just called Sandy a “nothing” storm? Since when was Hurricane Sandy a nothing storm. I cant even take anything you just said seriously with that kind of ignorance.

      • David F Puu

        NWS classifies hurricanes by wind velocity. They classify all of them and it is not based on public perception of damage. There is a massive difference between Cat 0-1 and Cat 3-4. Should a high Cat storm or a Tsunami event sweep the East Coast those 33 reactors present a significant threat to global survival due to potential irreversible damage to Commons based Assets.

        As Sandy downgraded it continued to create a lot of damage and Reactor-Power station threat. It really was a lower Cat Storm. Wiki does a pretty good job of explaining Sandy, actually.

        It can get a lot worse. The potential for a high Cat storm is always there and our Municipalities and State Regs try to account for this, but sometimes development plans do not jibe with Meteorologic potentiality, as they are shorter term, money based things.

        Regulatory controls for the Nuclear Industry were developed in the late 1950’s and implemented in the Mid 60’s based on risk analysis at that time. As the AEC became the NRC and systems were implemented the manner in which risk was underwitten stayed the same based on that first assessment pretty much.

        Since we have not experienced a lot of massive Nuclear POwer Station failure events, people assume everything is “okay”. It is not okay. It is high risk Sandy will have changed a lot of lives. Hopefully it will shift how we architect coastal development. But were it Cat 3 or 4 or out of Cat as it hit the power stations, the damage would have a high probability of being rather long term and course through the entire Northern Hemisphere damaging food security on a global scale.

        Fukushima is a 4 reactor melt down. Three breached their containment barriers. Recent spikes in numbers are indications of an ongoing instability in the situation. But the reality is that this was a global scale event two years ago and people are now beginning to see what Japan and the world are up against.

        We always can choose to believe what we want.

      • David F Puu

        I forgot the link which explains the grading system we use to determine storm intensity. Here it is.

  • RealityColin

    Trystan is right.

    Very, very grim.

    They’re just going to raise the minimum safety standards and pretend everything is fine.

  • Ray Masalas

    “The water is primarily used to cool the reactor?” You must mean the runnaway melted molten cores.

  • David F Puu

    This piece was produced by one of my colleagues months prior to the Tohoku Quake. Ironically I ran across it as I was on my way back from DC and a Summit where we were looking at some of the large scale issues facing the world today with representatives from various branches of the Federal Govt from Environmental to Military. Fukushima and the issues of radiant contaminant threat to the Commons, were what one of our Group’s Science leads and I spoke on. This piece really is an insight into how our upstream decisions can damage the food chain and in effect cripple a culture. It helps you understand what the Disaster in Japan really means to them, and to us.

  • siriusmw

    Must start using our brains, not reading news. Who ever truly doubted this was happening? All the while, innocent people are eating from the sea, swimming and breathing evaporation, believing the “news” instead of realizing there is no such thing as true nuclear containment or safety.

  • Chris

    Econ, you totally missed the point. Imagine a cat 4 storm hitting those sites.

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide 2the Galaxy

    Time to recognize that humans are a bunch of primates that are not even remotely qualified to use nuclear power.

  • HoodooVoodoo

    Just received this from infowars site regarding west coast exposure to radiation from Japanese nuclear plant disaster:

  • Mik

    I commented below, 3 months ago… Since then I have been reading allot of articles, and have concluded that unfortunately, Japan has no clearly defined solution that pinpoints a date when they will resolve this crisis. The only plan they have is to continue to try to cool the radioactive rods, and that is generating radioactive waste water at a rate that they cannot manage, because they cannot just keep piling up containers full of radioactive waste on their plant site, and there is nowhere that they can safely dispose of it, either. Any metal container will eventually be compromised at some point, rendering that area uninhabitable.

    I recently sent a letter to SURFER asking them to dedicate an entire issue to this, as a statement to the world that this is an oceanic crisis of global importance. Some scientists believe that it may contaminate much of the Pacific Ocean, and kill millions of people, perhaps billions (their words, not mine). We absolutely must warn the world of the danger. The SURFER mag cover should be bright red and should declare: NUCLEAR ENDGAME IN JAPAN THREATENS TO DESTROY THE PACIFIC OCEAN

    Yes it is over the top, but the Japanese government is endangering Japan’s environment, its people, its economy, and the purity of the world’s ocean.

    We absolutely have to shout out to the world that this crisis is potentially one of the most dangerous that the world has ever faced.

    Here is a link to a web page created to that effect. Please share it with your friends and colleagues:

    We spent days working on this, because we care.

  • Mik
  • Rezwan Razani

    You do realize that the risks from radiation are nothing compared to the risks of surfing, right? Surfers, of all people, should have an intuitive understanding of radiation. Should be in touch with the wave properties of matter, so to speak – OK, rough metaphor, working on it. Don’t fear the wave, ride it. And put it in perspective.

  • Rezwan Razani

    Or try this:

    as the war on pot has proven to be more damaging to people than the
    pot itself, so the fear of nuclear energy is more damaging than the radiation.

  • sha woot

    You guys are playing soft ball. Surfer, stand up for all the lives that love and depend on the ocean and start writing for real on this subject, YESTERDAY. We need an ALL-OUT campaign to force corporate interests from speading this horror story further into our future.

  • wendell

    Would you go to Japan for the olympics coming up?and dont forget,when the reactors blew up,they also blew apart spent fuel rods that were stored in these reactors and spread them in small pieces for a mile,They have no plans to even touch the 3 reactors till the year 2020 because theyre just too hot. Im waiting and watchimg to see if Tepco can remove the spent fuel rods from no.4,one mishap and you will see an unstoppable nuclear fire.[as if the meltdowns werent enough]So,despite the damage already heading our way,what could happen next will truley be doomsday