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Karen Bell: Beyond Fukushima

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Dr. Karen Bell is a highly experienced scholar and researcher, currently serving as a Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Glasgow's School of Social and Political Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Justice from the University of Bristol's School of Policy Studies and has extensive research experience in the areas of just transition, environmental justice, and cross-sectoral environmental policies. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Bell has been involved in multiple consulting and seminar projects related to environmental and social justice, including with the United Nations and Greenpeace. She has received numerous research grants, covering aspects ranging from environmental justice to sustainable development and social inclusion.

Dr. Bell has also collaborated with various international organizations and corporations, including the Asian Development Research Institute and the British Council. Prior to her doctoral studies, she was dedicated to community development, working with marginalized communities to address social inequalities and environmental issues. This array of experiences gives her a profound professional background and influence in the fields of environmental and social justice.

Beyond Fukushima: The Ethical, Environmental, and Economic Implications of Nuclear Energy

On August 24, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, announced that the first round of nuclear wastewater discharge into the ocean will last for 17 days, with a total release of approximately 7,800 cubic meters. Many industry experts and neighboring East Asian countries still have significant concerns, such as China announcing a complete temporary halt on the import of Japanese aquatic products. Regarding the controversy over Japan's nuclear wastewater discharge, SPCIS interviewed Dr. Bell to understand her views on the potential environmental impact of Japan's nuclear wastewater discharge, and how she sees this action from the perspective of environmental protection.

I do not have insights into the policies of the Japanese government. However, media reports lead me to believe that the decision by the Japanese government to proceed with the release of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was to address a problem where the plant had amassed a substantial quantity of contaminated water and the available storage space for this water had become increasingly limited. This water originally served the crucial purpose of cooling the reactors. As part of the ongoing decommissioning process of the plant, the decision had been made to release the accumulated water to avert the potential for accidental leaks within the facility. It is estimated that the complete release of this treated water will span more than 30 years to ensure a safe and controlled disposal process. The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), concluded that Japan’s plans to release the treated radioactive water met international safety standards, though it has been alleged that the Japanese government put pressure on IAEA officials to provide a favorable outcome.

Regarding protests against nuclear wastewater discharge, these are often framed as 'environmental justice' issues. This would mean complaints voiced in terms of distributional justice (this would have disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged groups e.g. fishing communities); procedural justice (not a decision made democratically – majority of Japanese are not in favour); and substantive justice (not a decision which is beneficial for health – possible carcinogens will be released, risks to food safety and marine environment). These elements are in all the protests.

Suggestions for governments and international organizations to mitigate such dangers focus on abandoning nuclear power and reducing production and consumption– focussing primarily on socially useful production (including for wellbeing and happiness) – thereby reducing energy demand as the useless is taken out of the economy (e.g. planned obsolescence products, the arms trade etc), and to use renewables. This is important because:

1. Nuclear power is linked to nuclear weapons production via enriched uranium and plutonium.

2. The risk of accidents and meltdowns which release massive amounts of radioactive materials into the environment, causing immediate and long-term harm to human health the environment.

3. Radioactive Waste Disposal: Nuclear power generates radioactive waste that remains hazardous for thousands of years. Safe disposal and management of this waste are major challenges which we still do not have answers to.

4. Cancer and Health Risks: Exposure radiation, which can occur in nuclear accidents, routine plant operations, or through the handling of radioactive materials, is linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health issues. Cancer clusters have been reported in regions near nuclear facilities.

5. Environmental Impact: Nuclear power can have adverse environmental effects beyond accidents. The routine discharge of heated water from nuclear plants into bodies of water can harm aquatic ecosystems and marine life. Additionally, mining and processing uranium for nuclear fuel causes environmental degradation.

6. Nuclear Terrorism: The security of nuclear facilities and materials is a critical concern.

7. Cost and Decommissioning: Nuclear power plants are expensive to build and decommission. The costs of building and maintaining nuclear facilities can be prohibitive, and the decommissioning process is complex and costly.

Contact: Sun Zhishan

Interview: Lu Xinxu

Editor: Chao Wei



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