Two recent disasters — the tsunami at Fukushima and Hurricane Sandy — show that shoreline infrastructure can easily result in extensive ocean pollution. With sea levels rising rapidly, this problem could quickly become significantly greater.
The severe damage at the nuclear plant at Fukushima, following a massive earthquake and tsunami, was in many ways a worst-case scenario. The facility sat directly next to the Pacific Ocean, making it unusually susceptible to the tsunami's rising water. Earlier this month, Tokyo Electric Power Company revealed that 120 tons — 32,000 gallons — of radioactive water had escaped from containment systems, though that water was unlikely to have reached the ocean.
Today, The New York Times explains that the problem persists, albeit in reverse. Groundwater is flowing into the facility's reactors at the rate of 75 gallons a minute, prompting Tepco to scramble to build storage containers to hold the now-irradiated water once removed. "While the company has managed to stay ahead," the paper reports, "the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean."