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Bring voices from the coast into the Fukushima treated water debate

PNAS Leslie Mabon  and Midori Kawabe 28 Oct 22, More than a decade has passed since the accident at the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant in Japan—but the most contentious aspect of bringing the site under control is only just beginning. The Japanese Government has approved plant operator TEPCO’s plan to release treated water into the Pacific Ocean. That water is currently being stored onsite and retains some radioactive substances after treatment. The decision to release this water has provoked political contention and societal concern. South Korea, China, and Taiwan, as well as international environmental nongovernmental organizations, have expressed strong concern; and fisheries cooperatives in Japan remain opposed to the releases for fear of possible reputational impacts on Fukushima seafood.

TEPCO are confirming specific details of the release process, and an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) task force has made multiple visits to the Fukushima Dai’ichi site at the behest of the Japanese Government and TEPCO. The releases are scheduled to start in 2023 and run for many years………………………………………

Even if TEPCO and the government minimize environmental impacts through careful management of the process, as some international experts believe possible (3), the indirect socioeconomic impacts of the treated water releases on Fukushima’s coastal fishing communities are likely to be experienced over the long term. Proposals made by the community of researchers and institutions working at the science–policy interface for Fukushima treated water must be informed by a deep understanding of the local community context—and they must be responsive to the concerns of local stakeholders. We believe local community concerns can be more fully incorporated into decision making for treated water at Fukushima Dai’ichi………………….

Local Influence

Within Japan, the government expert committees advising the management of treated water are dominated largely—albeit not exclusively—by engineering and physical science expertise (4). Despite fisheries cooperatives’ long-standing and vocal opposition to the releases, plant operator TEPCO explained in August 2021 that they had not at that point had direct consultations with fisheries representatives regarding the discharges (5). Formal dialogue between the operator and the fisheries sector in Fukushima on the topic of releases did not start until TEPCO and the Japanese Government had determined most of the technical details. This left little room for the plans to be adjusted in response to any concerns from Fukushima’s fishers or coastal residents…………………………

Both within Japan and internationally, Fukushima’s fishers and coastal residents, although not completely absent, have received limited consideration as stakeholders. Fishers and residents tend to be caricatured as being concerned over rumors and reputational damage to Fukushima seafood owing to the treated water releases (910)—or as harboring “irrational” safety fears over the relatively small amounts of radioactivity from pollutants such as tritium that are contained in the tanks currently storing treated water onsite (e.g., 3)………….

Missing Local Context

The Japanese Government is unlikely to reverse their decision to release treated water. Even so, it’s important to recognize that fishing is both an economic activity and the subject of deep emotional investment on the Fukushima coast. ……………………………….more https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2205431119

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October 28, 2022 - Posted by | Fukushima continuing

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