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What’s dumped is not just Fukushima nuclear water

Xin Ping,

In January, the Japanese government announced that it would begin to release into the Pacific Ocean more than 1.37 million tons of water from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant sometime this spring or summer. A shadow of nuclear contamination is looming larger.

Although the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) insists that the contaminated water has been filtered and diluted and meets the criterion for a safe discharge, a report has shown that 73 percent of the treated water still exceeds the discharge standard.

Unlike normal wastewater from nuclear power plants, Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water contains over 60 kinds of radioactive substances. Besides tritium, which is difficult to remove, the treated water also contains strontium-90 and carbon-14, whose half-lives are 29 years and 5,730 years, respectively.

For those who can’t grasp its meaning, tritium can replace stable hydrogen atoms in the human body and cause chronic radiation syndrome and cancer. Strontium-90 is highly toxic and may induce bone tumors.

Experts have pointed out that once released into the ocean, the contaminated water would rapidly spread to most parts of the Pacific. Radiation would be absorbed by marine life and enters the human body.

In 2022, it was detected that radiation in black rockfish caught off Fukushima prefecture was 14 times higher than the safe level for humans, even after 11 years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The South China Morning Post reported that caesium, one of the most dangerous radionuclides that “can build up in muscle, fat and bone and cause malignant tumors,” was detected in “fish caught at a depth of 24 meters about 9 km off Fukushima prefecture’s town of Shinchi.”

After more than 10 years, the local fishery industry has not fully recovered. In 2012, Japan banned the sale of 36 species of fish caught off Fukushima, and Tokyo’s decision crushed their hopes. Voices of opposition have been ongoing. In Japan, fishery organizations have expressed their concerns. Citizens in Tokyo, Osaka and Shizuoka protested on the streets to demand the government rescind its decision.

On the world stage, Japan’s neighbors including China, Russia and South Korea have asked Tokyo to provide useful information, engage in full consultation, and take responsible measures. The Pacific Island countries urged Japan not to release the contaminated water before there is enough scientific evidence proving that it’s safe. And independent UN human rights experts issued a joint statement calling Japan’s decision “very concerning” and “deeply disappointing.”

To make a clear evaluation of the safety of Japan’s plan, an International Atomic Energy Agency task force was set up to conduct a safety review. Days ago, it completed its second regulatory review and “will release a report on its findings in about three months, as well as a comprehensive report before the discharge.” Nonetheless, even before the task force set out, Tokyo unilaterally announced the planned discharge. The Japanese government has set its mind on the discharge regardless of the review outcome.

When Tokyo decides to discharge the contaminated water without ensuring safety, does it even consider people’s right to life and health? As a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and the Convention on Nuclear Safety, does the Japanese government recognize its international obligations? When it puts the whole Pacific and Pacific Rim countries at the risk of environmental disaster, how does it uphold the principle of “environment first”?

When it comes to nuclear contamination, it’s better to err on the side of caution. There could be better alternatives than dumping the contaminated water into the sea. Evaporating, storing underground the tritium-laced water from the plant, or storing and processing the water over the long term, these are all technically reasonable options that are safer than a direct discharge. Unfortunately, Tokyo has chosen to go for the cheapest “quick fix.”

When the earthquake and tsunami struck Fukushima, neighboring countries reached out their helping hands to Japan. Today, the nation is repaying them with tons of nuclear contaminated water.

The Pacific Ocean is home to billions of people, but Japan takes it as its own sewer. Along with contaminated water, Japan’s reputation, conscience and international obligations will be dumped as well.


March 15, 2023 - Posted by | Fukushima continuing, oceans, wastes

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