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The Japanese government has announced plans to dump millions of litres of radioactive water into the ocean. The water is currently stored in tanks at the devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant. The 2011 earthquake, which was the strongest ever recorded in Japan, and the resulting tsunami caused massive damage to the nuclear power plant. The plant suffered three nuclear meltdowns during the disaster. A nuclear meltdown is when the core of a nuclear reactor overheats to the point where it begins to melt. There are many layers of protection in a nuclear reactor but once a meltdown happens, each layer is at risk of being breached. If all of the layers are breached, then radioactive materials can leak out into the environment. The three meltdowns at Fukushima released radiation into the surrounding environment, although the reactors were surrounded by concrete which stopped three of the most dangerous radioisotopes from being released.

Since 2011, Tepco, the company in charge of the Fukushima power plant, has been sending water through the affected reactors in order to keep them cool and contain the situation. The water then becomes contaminated with radiation after being in close proximity to the reactors. The water is then sent through a processing system to remove most of the radioactive elements before being stored in tanks, of which there are around 1000 at the site. The tanks are expected to be completely filled by 2022 and there is no room to add more. This is what led to the Japanese government’s announcement that they would be dumping the water into the ocean from 2022.

The announcement led to environmental groups, fishermen and politicians demanding that the Japanese government cease the plans. This anxiety regarding radiation is common amongst the public and media. ‘Radiation’ and ‘radioactive’ are words that induce fear in people despite most not knowing, in detail, what they really mean. The radiation that remains in the Fukushima water is called Tritium. Tritium is a radioactive substance, but only weakly so. It appears naturally in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. It is used in a variety of applications from nuclear weapons to medicine. It is most famously used for glow in the dark products. Objects that glow in the dark such as watches, signs and glow-sticks all contain tritium. Tritium can be dangerous to humans if it is ingested. However, a person would need to ingest billions of becquerels (units of radiation) worth of Tritium before it would have any effect on their health. For perspective, the tank with the highest concentration of Tritium at Fukushima has 2.5 million becquerels per litre. Although this is much higher than standard drinking water it is far below what would be dangerous to ingest. It is also much higher than what the Japanese government plans to dump into the ocean. The water is going to be diluted and processed again before being released into the ocean.

Besides the plan to continue diluting the water down to even safer levels, it is not yet decided how exactly Japan will release the water into the ocean. The government wants to release it very slowly, over 30 years out of an abundance of caution, but where and how they will do it is something that is still being discussed. Despite the efforts of Tepco and the Japanese government, they haven’t necessarily eased the concerns of those who are nervous about the release of the water. In order to reiterate how safe the water will be, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said that the Tritium in the water will be one-seventh of what is considered drinking water by the time it is released. This prompted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman to request that Aso drink the water to prove that it is safe.

The regular misinterpretation of radiation and what it means has been incredibly damaging for the nuclear industry. Tepco admitted in 2012 that they had been reluctant to put more safety measures in place before the Fukushima disaster because they were worried about what the public would think. They didn’t want people to think that nuclear power plants are unsafe. The anti-nuclear sentiment that is strong around the world has been accused of holding back advancements in energy. Proponents of green energy have often championed nuclear power as being the best option the planet has of ending our reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is indeed one of the cleanest and safest forms of energy that humanity has access to. France is the biggest user of nuclear power in the world. The country only relies on fossil fuels for 8.6% of its total electricity output. 72.3% comes from nuclear power and 17.8% comes from renewables. If more countries embraced nuclear power, the world would be much closer to ending its reliance on fossil fuels that do huge damage to the environment. The widespread public mistrust of it, particularly after events like Fukushima and Chernobyl, has stopped it from progressing as far as it can.

Difficult words

Meltdown (n): A disastrous collapse or breakdown.

Breach (v): To create a gap in some sort of structure, or break a rule/agreement.

Contaminate (v): To pollute a substance with another substance.

Induce (v): To bring about or give rise to.

Ingest (v): To eat or drink something.

Dilute (v): To weaken a substance by adding another substance to it.

Reiterate (v): To say something again for emphasis.

Sentiment (n): A view or opinion.

Proponent (n): A person who supports something.

Activities

For listening practise, listen to the recorded article here:

American English Audio:

Match the Synonym!

1. MeltdownA. Break
2. BreachB. Weaken
3. ContaminateC. Pollute
4. InduceD. Supporter
5. IngestE. Repeat
6. DiluteF. Influence
7. ReiterateG. View
8. SentimentH. Collapse
9. ProponentI. Eat

True or False?

1.  The Japanese government will dump a massive amount of radioactive water into the ocean. T / F

2. A nuclear meltdown is when a nuclear plant sets on fire. T / F

3. The company in charge of the Fukushima power plant has been using strong wind to keep the reactors cool. T / F

4.  The radioactive water is being stored in tanks. T / F

5. The tanks will be completely filled in a decade. T / F

6. Fisherman strongly support dumping the water into the ocean. T / F

7. Tritium is used in glow in the dark products. T / F

8. The Japanese government will slowly dump the water out over 30 years. T / F

9. Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Also will drink the radioactive water on television. T / F

10. The French government refuses to use nuclear power in their country. T / F

Unscramble the sentence!

1. plant / water / nuclear / devastated / at / currently / power / is / in / tanks / The / the / stored / Fukushima

2. expected / by / are / completely / filled / 2022 / tanks / to / The / be

3. amongst / is / the / public / This / radiation / anxiety / regarding / media / common / and

4. very / slowly, / it / release / to / years / The / over / 30 / government / wants

5. had / put / been / to / 2012 / admitted / in / more / place / Tepco / in / that / they / measures / safety / reluctant

Listening and Vocabulary

Listen to the article and fill in the words OR practice vocabulary and fill in the words.

American English Audio:

SurroundingIngestCease
AnnouncementReluctantMistrust
DumpContainDiluting

The Japanese government has announced plans to (1)________ millions of litres of radioactive water into the ocean. The water is currently stored in tanks at the devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant. The 2011 earthquake, which was the strongest ever recorded in Japan, and the resulting tsunami caused massive damage to the nuclear power plant. The plant suffered three nuclear meltdowns during the disaster. A nuclear meltdown is when the core of a nuclear reactor overheats to the point where it begins to melt. There are many layers of protection in a nuclear reactor but once a meltdown happens, each layer is at risk of being breached. If all of the layers are breached, then radioactive materials can leak out into the environment. The three meltdowns at Fukushima released radiation into the (2)______________ environment, although the reactors were surrounded by concrete which stopped three of the most dangerous radioisotopes from being released.

Since 2011, Tepco, the company in charge of the Fukushima power plant, has been sending water through the affected reactors in order to keep them cool and (3)__________ the situation. The water then becomes contaminated with radiation after being in close proximity to the reactors. The water is then sent through a processing system to remove most of the radioactive elements before being stored in tanks, of which there are around 1000 at the site. The tanks are expected to be completely filled by 2022 and there is no room to add more. This is what led to the Japanese government’s (4)________________ that they would be dumping the water into the ocean from 2022.

The announcement led to environmental groups, fishermen and politicians demanding that the Japanese government (5)_________ the plans. This anxiety regarding radiation is common amongst the public and media. ‘Radiation’ and ‘radioactive’ are words that induce fear in people despite most not knowing, in detail, what they really mean. The radiation that remains in the Fukushima water is called Tritium. Tritium is a radioactive substance, but only weakly so. It appears naturally in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. It is used in a variety of applications from nuclear weapons to medicine. It is most famously used for glow in the dark products. Objects that glow in the dark such as watches, signs and glow-sticks all contain tritium. Tritium can be dangerous to humans if it is ingested. However, a person would need to (6)__________ billions of becquerels (units of radiation) worth of Tritium before it would have any effect on their health. For perspective, the tank with the highest concentration of Tritium at Fukushima has 2.5 million becquerels per litre. Although this is much higher than standard drinking water it is far below what would be dangerous to ingest. It is also much higher than what the Japanese government plans to dump into the ocean. The water is going to be diluted and processed again before being released into the ocean.

Besides the plan to continue (7)___________ the water down to even safer levels, it is not yet decided how exactly Japan will release the water into the ocean. The government wants to release it very slowly, over 30 years out of an abundance of caution, but where and how they will do it is something that is still being discussed. Despite the efforts of Tepco and the Japanese government, they haven’t necessarily eased the concerns of those who are nervous about the release of the water. In order to reiterate how safe the water will be, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said that the Tritium in the water will be one-seventh of what is considered drinking water by the time it is released. This prompted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman to request that Aso drink the water to prove that it is safe.

The regular misinterpretation of radiation and what it means has been incredibly damaging for the nuclear industry. Tepco admitted in 2012 that they had been (8)___________ to put more safety measures in place before the Fukushima disaster because they were worried about what the public would think. They didn’t want people to think that nuclear power plants are unsafe. The anti-nuclear sentiment that is strong around the world has been accused of holding back advancements in energy. Proponents of green energy have often championed nuclear power as being the best option the planet has of ending our reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is indeed one of the cleanest and safest forms of energy that humanity has access to. France is the biggest user of nuclear power in the world. The country only relies on fossil fuels for 8.6% of its total electricity output. 72.3% comes from nuclear power and 17.8% comes from renewables. If more countries embraced nuclear power, the world would be much closer to ending its reliance on fossil fuels that do huge damage to the environment. The widespread public (9)___________ of it, particularly after events like Fukushima and Chernobyl, has stopped it from progressing as far as it can.

Conversation Questions

Take turns speaking with a partner or try to answer on your own:

1. Did you find this article interesting? Why or why not?
2. Did you learn anything new from this article? If so, what?
3. What do you think of this story?
4. What is your opinion about nuclear energy?
5. What source of energy does your country use the most?
6. Is it possible to make people less fearful of nuclear energy?
7. Do you think every country should be using nuclear energy?
8. Should the Japanese government dump the water into the ocean?
9. Should students learn about radiation in school?
10. What is the general opinion about nuclear energy in your country?
11. Do you think it’s understandable that people are nervous about Japan’s plan?
12. Is your country doing anything to change to greener sources of energy?
13. What do you think about the Chinese spokesman’s request to the Deputy Prime Minister of Japan?
14. Can you think of any other ways for Japan to get rid of the water?
15. How can people be educated about the safety of nuclear energy?
16. Do you think nuclear energy could be the answer to climate change?
17. Is climate change often discussed in your country?
18. Has your country had any disasters like the Fukushima power plant meltdown before?
19. Would you live close to a nuclear power plant?
20. What do you think about Tepco being hesitant to put more safety measures in place because of public opinion?