Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student William Grady, makes this connection in Tokyo, Japan. This current event was reported in Reuters Online News, on September 3, 2013, under the title, “Japan to spend almost $500 million on water crisis at Fukushima nuclear plant,” by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Mari Saito. This likely is real news due to the independent report published about Fukushima’s water issues in the New York Times.

This current event deals heavily with the water resources engineering disciplines of wastewater engineering and management. The main theme of the article is about Japan’s expansive attempt to clean up the Fukushima nuclear plant’s meltdown after the tsunami that hit it and caused the meltdown in March of 2011. Japan has pledged to use nearly $500 million to contain leaks from the plant, and decontaminate the radioactive water present. A large problem seen at the plant is the seeping of groundwater into the plant. The earthquake caused groundwater to leak into the plant and create contaminated radioactive water. To address this groundwater flow issue, Japan plans to build a massive underground wall of frozen earth around the damaged reactors (Figure 1.). This type of method is often used in digging subway tunnels, and is untested on the scale of the Fukushima power plant, and for the planned duration of years or decades for the frozen earth to be maintained. This influx of groundwater flow provides a big issue for Tepco, who runs the plant. If this groundwater continues to flow into the plant, and the removal of the water is not quick enough, the radioactive water will flow into the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the aboveground tanks where the radioactive water is stored are prone to leakage (Figure 2.). The amount of water they are storing in these leak prone tanks is enough to fill 130 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This leaking of radioactive water can have profound effects.

Figure 1. Proposed Frozen Wall to stop groundwater flow into Fukushima Power Plant (NY Times)

Figure 1. Proposed Frozen Wall to stop groundwater flow into Fukushima Power Plant (NY Times)

Figure 2. Tanks used to store contaminated water at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. (NY Times)

Figure 2. Tanks used to store contaminated water at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. (NY Times)

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are fundamental to any water resources engineering issue and environmental issue. Sustainability can often be defined by the triple bottom line, which is the economic, environmental, and environmental effects of a given project. The Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup relates heavily to economic issues, because the cost of the intended project is nearly $500 million. This will likely cause the company of Tepco to lose a lot of profits and also cause tax payers money. Additionally, if the groundwater flow into the plant is not stopped, then costs could rise exponentially, due to the fact of continuous need to cleanup radioactive water. The radioactive water cleanup relates to environmental issues because the nuclear meltdown and radioactive waste can harm people. Most of the contaminated water leaking from the plant is confined to the harbor around the plant and is not a threat to foreign nations. Most of the radiation is traveling on ocean currents to the Western United States, but is expected to be diluted within water safety standards by the time it reaches it. In addition, the radiation can be harmful to humans. The radiation caused many of the neighboring coastal areas to be cleared of residents for safety issues. The radioactive water cleanup and disposal also relates to societal issues. The radiation displaced many people from there nearby homes. The closest towns to the plant remain off-limits to the public, but some residents have started to return to their homes less than 20 km away. Additionally, the main diet in Japan consists of fish and the radiation could potentially contaminate fish within the area, and then effect the people who may eat them. According to Steinhauser, Brandl, and Johnson (2013), the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Russia in 1986 caused many people to be evacuated from the area and caused people to develop health defects. They state that the evacuation of the area was much less organized in Chernobyl and the meltdown was less contained, so the environmental impacts were much greater (2013). Chernobyl was at a much greater scale and effected more people and altered some of the surrounding wildlife (2013). The cause-effect between the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima and the impact to society occurs when irresponsible water and wastewater management practice, can lead to contamination issues, the displacing of people from their homes, and the potential development of health defects within the people exposed to the waste.

Reference
Steinhauser G, Brandl A, Johnson T. Comparison of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents: A review of the environmental impacts in Science of The Total Environment. 2014; vol. 470-471: pp. 800–817.

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