Japan shows no conscience as regards decision to dump nuclear wastewater into sea

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Liberty Professionals
People rally to protest against the Japanese government's decision to discharge contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima Prefecture into the sea, in Tokyo, capital of Japan, April 13, 2021. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi)

By Zhong Sheng

The Japanese government has abandoned the basic principles of international morality and justice with its extremely irresponsible decision to dump nuclear wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

The unilateral decision of Japan, which was not made out of absolute necessity, has aroused strong denunciation from the international community.

It is well known that the Japanese government did not exhaust all the means of safe disposal, yet it decided to risk global public health and safety and the vital interests of the people of Japan’s neighbors in total disregard of widespread doubts and opposition from the international community.

So far, there is no precedent in the world for discharging water contaminated in nuclear accident into the sea. The wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the highest-level nuclear accident is entirely different from the wastewater produced from the normal operation of nuclear power plants.

The claim of the Japanese side that the nuclear wastewater is safe was solely based on data unilaterally released by the country. However, such data is less than convincing, considering that Japan’s nuclear power industry has been faced with unceasing problems during the past decades, and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), the owner and operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has frequently appeared in scandals and long been covering up safety loopholes through means including tampering with data, along with its frequent accidents.

An earlier review report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert team pointed out that if the wastewater containing tritium from the Fukushima nuclear plant is discharged into the sea, it will affect the marine environment and the health of people in neighboring countries and that the treated wastewater needs to be further purified to remove other radionuclides.

With the world’s strongest currents along the coast of Fukushima, radioactive materials could spread to most of the Pacific Ocean within 57 days from the date of discharge, and reach all oceans of the globe in a decade, according to a German marine scientific research institute.

Greenpeace nuclear experts said that the level of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in the wastewater will remain hazardous for thousands of years and have the potential to cause genetic damage.

It’s astonishing that the Japanese side just turned a deaf ear to views from these authoritative institutions.

The Japanese side’s daydream of simply dumping the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea and getting done with it is actually self-deceiving. Even if Japan can get rid of the burden of cleaning up after a nuclear accident, it will never end the vicious circle of ecological problems after the ecological environment is ruined.

Five proposals were put forward during discussions on the disposal of the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant held by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, including releasing the radioactive water into the atmosphere through evaporation, disposing of the wastewater via electrolysis, diluting the wastewater and discharging it into the sea, injecting the contaminated water deep underground, and burying it underground.

The Japanese side claimed that discharging the nuclear wastewater into the sea is the least costly and easiest option. Obviously, in order to shift the burden and risks onto others, the Japanese government has chosen to be selfish and heartless.

As sharply pointed out by people in Japan who oppose the decision, the Japanese government and TEPCO are not unable to, but do not want to, adopt other proposals.

Japan’s decision to dump the nuclear wastewater into the sea is “particularly disappointing as experts believe alternative solutions to the problem are available,” says a joint statement by the United Nations (UN) human rights experts.

“We remind Japan of its international obligations to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, to conduct environmental impact assessments of the risks that the discharge of water may have, to prevent transboundary environmental harms, and to protect the marine environment,” experts said in the joint statement published on April 15.

The ocean is mankind’s shared property. The disposal of the wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is absolutely not a domestic issue for Japan and the country shall by no means be allowed to continue persisting in the irresponsible decision.

According to relevant international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the Japanese side should take on international obligations including notification and full consultation, environmental assessment and monitoring, preventive measures to minimize risks, and information transparency.

China summoned the Japanese ambassador to China and lodged solemn representations against the Japanese government’s decision to dump the nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea. The South Korean foreign ministry summoned Japanese ambassador to Seoul to protest against the decision of the Japanese government. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson made a statement to criticize Japan for the decision. The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) demanded that an independent expert review regarding the decision be undertaken to the satisfaction of all PIF members. Philippine presidential spokesperson said that nations behind environmental pollution should pay for the damage.

The Japanese side must understand that justice will not be absent from safeguarding people’s rights to life and health.

It seems that the Japanese government shows no conscience by inflicting such a thoughtless decision on mankind.

The Japanese side had better face up to its responsibility, adopt a scientific attitude, fulfill its international obligations, withdraw its erroneous decision, and conduct in-depth assessment of the possible impacts of its disposal of the nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The Japanese government should actively and timely release relevant information in a stringent, accurate, open, and transparent manner, strictly accept international assessment, verification and supervision with substantial participation of all stakeholders including China and other neighboring countries as well as relevant international organizations, prudently make a decision on the issue according to the consensus reached among all parties, and refrain from discharging its radioactive water before the decision is made.

(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy.)

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