Oceanic Waste Dumping

Jane Campbell
April 6, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

Fig. 1: Radioactive waste dumping sites off the coast of Japan. [1] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Oceanic waste was first practiced long before the Agricultural Age, where people were disposing of waste in rivers, lakes, and streams. As people began to migrate towards the coastlines, they were exposed to an even bigger body of water to dump their garbage: the ocean. Oceanic waste was almost tradition all over the world because it was simple, could be easily accessed, and more importantly, it was cheap. One output of radioactive waste is liquid effluents from civil installations. There is also discharge from airborne vehicles as well as liquid discharge, mainly from ships and aquatic machines. Another main source of nuclear waste is from nuclear weapons, especially when countries perform weapons tests, which contaminated the northern hemisphere for almost 40 years in the 1950's. Many other radionuclides that entered the marine life were from land-based sites that unfortunately had accidents with spills or leaks that ran off into a body of water. [1]

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, otherwise known as The Ocean Dumping Act was enacted in 1972, which gave the power to the U.S. Environmental Agency the contract to control the dumping and waste of all materials into oceans, besides dredging materials. Once this act was past, many dumping companies were required to stop immediately, or were put on a program to slowly but efficiently stop their dumping programs. This act sets control over transportation of all materials that are dumped and the act of disposing as well. It is forbidden to ever dump chemical and radioactive waste again in any body of water. [2]

Today, there are many sites around the world that contain nuclear waste and are controlled by government agencies, however; even though these sites are controlled, the waste from the present and past is still churning in the oceans today. Russia, who practiced oceanic waste dumping regularly in the past has now been looking at areas of the sea that need cleaning and monitoring to help control the nuclear waste. The Russian Federation has submitted reports that indicated areas and sites where dumping has occurred, as well as the amount of waste that is in the sea. The Federation also indicated a disposal operation that occurred in the Sea of Japan, which is now being monitored and controlled. The new updates create new disposal operations by the Russian Federation as well as additional information from the United Kingdom and Swedem. The Fukushima plant off the coast of Japan, in Fig. 1, releases radioactive material, but it will behave in different ways based on the chemical properties of the material. [1]

© Jane Campbell. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Inventory of Radioactive Waste Disposals at Sea," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-TECDOC-1105, August 1999.

[2] C. Copeland, "Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law," Congressional Research Service, RS20028, December 2010.