After years of nuclear bomb detonations in the Marshall Islands, fallout and forced relocations of communities began a ripple effect: Many Indigenous Marshallese people who had relied on subsistence farming and fishing for 4,000 years suddenly couldn’t trust the safety of their food, becoming reliant on imported products and unhealthy, non-native processed foods.

And those were the lucky ones. On Utrik atoll, where [Danity] Laukon’s maternal family is from, many residents fell ill from acute radiation sickness.

Now she’s worried her community will face even more health risks. [In August], the government of Japan began releasing wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean and plans to continue to do so gradually for the next 30 years.

In 2011, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck Japan, causing a tsunami that killed more than 19,000 people and knocked out emergency generators to the Fukushima nuclear plant. In the hours after, three nuclear reactors melted down, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people. Radioactive water spilled into the Pacific and was carried east by currents toward the United States. Two and a half years later, radiation from the plant was detected in waters off California, but at levels considered harmless.

In the decade since, Japan has erected more than 1,000 tanks to store more than a million tons of water from Fukushima: rainwater, groundwater, and water pumped into the facility to cool the damaged reactors. Once treated, that water will be poured into the Pacific for the next three decades.

Japanese officials have promised that the levels of contaminants present in the wastewater will be significantly lower than international health standards, and last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations agency that oversees nuclear energy, greenlit the plan when it released a report describing the wastewater as having a “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”

However, some scientists remain concerned about how little is known about potential long-term effects of that wastewater, while many Indigenous peoples in the Pacific, like Laukon, worry that the move will add an additional burden to the health disparities communities already face. For Laukon, Japan’s decision is an extension of a long-running history of using the Pacific as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

“It’s giving us more to deal with,” she said. “It feels helpless.”

Read the full article about indigenous health and nuclear waste by Anita Hofschneider at Grist.