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Fishing in Pacific waters around Fukushima has been closed since the disaster, for the seafood contains radioactive levels unsafe for human consumption. This is detrimental to the livelihoods of Japanese fishermen who previously relied on the eastern coast to feed their families as well as support themselves financially. Tourism in Japan dropped after the disaster, from 8.6 million in 2010 to just 6.2 million in 2011—a staggering difference of 27.8%. Though national levels of tourism have rebounded, tourism surrounding Fukushima has virtually died out. Declines in both the fishing and tourism industries have hurt the local economy, in addition to the astounding expenses associated with containment and attempted clean up of the radioactive material (an estimated $58 billion project!) Japan now imports more than 90% of its energy from overseas, passing higher energy costs onto citizens.
Fukushima's reactors continue to leak today, more than three years after the nuclear explosions. Continuous leaking has exacerbated the radiation problem immensely: in 2013, radiation readings in the waters surrounding the plant “jumped more than 20% to their highest level of the current radioactive leak crisis.” Water testing in the reactor buildings showed radioactive material levels at 2,200 millisieverts, enough to kill an unprotected person within hours. (For reference, 20 millisieverts per year is the current average limit for nuclear industry employees.)
Though the Fukushima explosion was initially brought on by an unfortunate combination of human fallacy and natural disaster, little has been done since to prepare for and combat future disasters. In May of 2014, (TEPKO), the owner of the nuclear plant, began pumping stored, contaminated water into the ocean due to lack of additional storage capacity. The water is monitored before it is directed into the ocean (though there are no standards in place for contamination levels that are forbidden from being pumped into the sea, rendering this method virtually useless.) Last month, in June 2014, began building an ice wall to isolate toxic waters at Fukushima from clean groundwater flowing down from the mountainside. However, this project will not be completed until 2015 at the very earliest, and the wall itself is not a comprehensive solution. Dr. Helen Caldicott, nominee, believes that Fukushima “is not over and will never end… [The radioactive contamination] cannot be neutralized and it cannot be prevented from spreading in the future.” Dr. Calidicott recommends closing all nuclear power plants and replacing them with solar, wind and tidal energy sources.
There is no global ocean database for nuclear contamination, and a reference point for safe levels of radiation (for humans and ecosystems) has not yet been determined. Local disasters, even those as devastating as Fukushima and Chernobyl, are small in comparison to the world’s vast oceans. However, the Index could possibly detect these events when applied at a regional scale over an extended period of time. Even on a regional scale, though, it is difficult to separate the damage of nuclear disasters from the many other hazardous substances in the environment. The Index is ever evolving with advancements in science and data collection, so future indices may be better equipped to include more of these “hidden” hazards such as radioactive waste.
Most importantly, it is vital to remember that these radioactive materials should never reach our air, oceans, skin or food supply in the first place. Once they are set free, they pose potential problems to both humans and the environment for decades, even centuries, to come. step in reducing the risk of radioactive materials in the ocean is to prevent these nuclear disasters from occurring.