Thursday, April 7, 2011

Toxic sea: NIMBY

Filed Under: Disasters (general), Advice, Nuclear accident, Safety of Citizens

ALARMISTS AND doomsday soothsayers are abroad in the land in the aftermath of the disaster several weeks ago that devastated Japan, considered the most disaster-prepared country in the world. Many of us are wont to say: Think how we would all be had the triple whammy happened in our disaster-prone country where disaster preparedness is way behind other countries. Only after “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009 and the tragedy in Japan did we begin to be personally prepared, that is, right in our own homes and small communities. National is another story.
I am talking about ordinary citizens having “I am ready” bags and emergency kits in their homes and cars. I have mine. I even have a reflectorized net vest in shocking green, which I hope I will not have to use at all. I was an outstanding Girl Scout in my youth, by the way, and I still live by the GS motto, “Be prepared,” and the GS slogan, “Do a good turn daily.” I should not be shy to broadcast this.
What worries many people now is the aftereffect of the damage in the nuclear plants in Fukushima and the radioactivity that could reach distant places. Japan, a news report said the other day, is going to release toxic water into the sea. “Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) will release almost 11,500 tons of water contaminated with low levels of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as workers struggled to contain the increasing amounts of dangerous runoff resulting from efforts to cool the plant’s damaged reactor.”

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano, the top government spokesperson, told reporters in a televised press conference, “We have no choice but to release water tainted with radioactive materials into the ocean as a safety measure.” Tepco has been pumping tons of water into the four reactors at Fukushisma in order to prevent a meltdown, and this water has become radioactive. And to free up space, this “seriously radioactive” water has to be released into the sea. An additional 1,500 tons of radioactive water will also be released from two reactors.

This radioactive water will go into the Pacific Ocean which Japan shares with the Philippines, several Asian countries and even the United States.

The first thing that comes to mind is, what happens to our food that comes from the sea? What are the health hazards? And what about tourism and tourists who are lured by our Pacific sand, sea and skies?

There are many differing views on the impact of dumping radioactive water into the ocean. Which should one believe? One thing is for sure: Many people are worried.

Are the oceans wide enough to take in all that radioactivity? There are those who say that releasing radioactive water into the ocean will not have a significant effect on marine life. One website quoted experts saying that “radioactive doses in seafood may turn out to be detectable but probably won’t be a significant health hazard. They’d probably be less of a concern than what people could get from land-based sources like drinking water or eating produce ...”

But Damon Moglen, director of the Climate and Energy Project at Friends of the Earth, is adamant: “Dumping this nuclear waste directly into the Pacific is dangerous and unacceptable. It’s incredible that while an international treaty forbids the dumping of even a barrel of this nuclear waste from a ship, Japan intends to send thousands of tons of that waste into the ocean. This dumping poses a direct threat to humans and the environment, and fisheries and industries depending on a clean Pacific could be devastated.”

Friends of the Earth noted that Japan is a signatory to the London Convention, which forbids countries from dumping nuclear waste at sea. But, under a loophole in that treaty, nuclear waste can be released from land-based sources. Ah, so. The Japanese government and Tepco appear poised to use that loophole to pump the 11,500 tons of waste from the shore at Fukushima into the ocean. This waste cannot legally be dumped from a ship at sea. From land is okay?

While the world reaches out to Japan and mourns its dead, now comes an issue of high concern that could dilute compassion toward the Japanese. Japan could now look like an underdog begging the world’s understanding, or like a harmful entity that should be duly warned not to spread harm to its neighbors who care. Would it be cruel to say to Japan, “We commiserate with you, but keep the contagion to yourself. We cannot be made to share this burden.”

If it were the earthquake and tsunami alone, there would be no problem about nations sharing the burden (in different degrees of capability, of course), but to share in the radioactive contamination is another story. Countries which share an ocean with Japan would not want to put themselves in harm’s way. Japan’s dumping of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean would constitute a deliberate act of harming its neighbors, like deliberately releasing radioactive mist into the sky which the wind will blow in all directions.

And so NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) applies.

I think of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo “world-class” eruption that darkened much of the world’s skies and even caused some global climate changes. A natural valve that happened to be in the Philippines acted up and suddenly all of us Earth creatures became citizens of one planet. We Filipinos, by our lonesome, took all that volcanic fallout and its effects that lasted for years. We did not build Mount Pinatubo.

On Wednesday the Senate held a hearing on radiation risks. It is wise to heed the experts.

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