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Dumping Fukushima’s contaminated water into the ocean could be a violation of international law

Environmental implications require an international conversation

Storage tanks for radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

January 10,2021

At a meeting of parties to the London Convention and Protocol on Dec. 14, the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) clearly stated that the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean was not a sovereign decision for the Japanese government to make. Its reason was that the damage would extend beyond the scope of Japan’s jurisdiction, affecting nearby countries including South Korea.

While the US and France have stated their trust in the safety of releasing the water and referred to it as a matter for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to oversee, delegations from China, Russia, and Canada indicated their support for the South Korean government’s position. David Santillo, a Greenpeace Research Laboratories senior scientist who took part in the meeting, stressed that the matter of releasing the water into the ocean was something to be discussed at an international level.

During the meeting, the MOF worked to encourage other countries in the region to indicate their support, while also ensuring an opportunity to continue the debate at the next meeting. Despite these efforts by the South Korean government, some in South Korea still maintain that there is nothing wrong with dumping the water because it’s been treated. This conclusion is faulty.

The 1.37 million tons (as of summer 2022) that are currently set to be released into the Pacific Ocean are just the start of the issue. Even after that enormous amount has been discharged, radioactive material — hundreds of tons produced each week at the Fukushima plant — will continue to be released. Some of the radioactive substances have half-lives in the tens of thousands of years or more. The main reason for the water’s contamination has to do with three reactors that melted down in the Fukushima disaster. Cooling water has to be added daily to control the reactors as they continue to undergo nuclear fission. This means that water is going to continue to be contaminated until the reactors’ nuclear fuel and waste have been completely removed.

The amount of nuclear fuel remaining after the Chernobyl disaster, commonly viewed as the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, has been reported at around 570 tons. The Ukrainian government predicted it would take 100 years to remove it all. This means there is no way to pledge any concrete timeline. Within the Fukushima reactors, there are more than 1,100 tons of remaining nuclear fuel and waste, nearly twice as much as Chernobyl. In particular, most of the strontium, which inflicts the most biological damage, is still in the reactors.

As more water is contaminated by this highly concentrated radioactive material, it accumulates in the ecosystem. The amount of contaminated water that the Japanese government plans to release into the Pacific already exceeds 1 million tons; over the next 10 years, it could rise to 2 million. The radioactive substances in the water are another issue. As cesium and strontium deposit and accrete on the ocean floor, they can release radioactive matter over the long term. The effects on marine life are likewise severe.

The problem is that there is no way of gauging or preventing the damage ahead of time. This is why there are such strict regulations on the disposal of radioactive material into the ocean. The Japanese government has argued that its release of Fukushima water is justified by likening it to the release of cooling water from normally operating nuclear power plants, but no precedent exists where permission has been granted to discharge waste from a nuclear accident into the marine environment. As such, South Korea needs to stop the Japanese government’s decision to avoid a tragic outcome.

To begin with, Seoul has the right to demand that Tokyo perform an official environmental impact assessment. The release of the contaminated water into the ocean would be a violation of international law if it does not conform to the principle of prior notification and the obligation to perform an environmental assessment.

Even the IAEA, which has sided with the Japanese government, explicitly mentioned the need for an environmental impact assessment in its report. The South Korean government must speak out and ensure it happens.

By Chang Mari, Greenpeace energy campaigner

January 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Parties Blast Foreign Ministry Response to Japan’s Water Discharge Move

October 26, 2020

South Korea’s ruling and opposition parties both criticized the Foreign Ministry’s response to Japan’s reported plan to release radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

In a parliamentary audit on Monday, ruling Democratic Party(DP) lawmaker Lee Jae-jung unveiled an internal document from the ministry which stressed that the handling of the contaminated water is Japan’s sovereign issue.

Lee raised concern about whether the ministry was trying to view the issue as a domestic affair, and urged a more aggressive response as Tokyo is currently promoting its stance to the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), while Seoul is not.

DP lawmaker Kim Young-ho also expressed concern that the IAEA may accept Japan’s plan and urged Seoul’s Foreign Ministry to persuade the United States.

Main opposition People Power Party(PPP) Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon also noted that Japan has submitted its final report on research results to the IAEA while the Seoul government is only continuing internal discussions. 

He said countries have the obligation to prevent maritime pollution and that legal action must be taken against Japan.

November 2, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Democratic Party leader says he demanded “transparent disclosure” of information about Fukushima water treatment

Lee Nak-yeon discussed issue with Japanese ambassador to S. Korea at National Assembly

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Nak-yeon (left) and Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koji Tomita at the National Assembly on Oct. 22.

October 23, 2020

Democratic Party Lee Nak-yeon, considered one of the preeminent “Japan watchers” among South Korean politicians, requested the transparent disclosure of information about treatment of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant during a meeting with Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koji Tomita on Oct. 22.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Tomita at the National Assembly that morning, Lee said, “I stressed the need for the transparent disclosure of all information regarding treatment of water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and told him that Japan needs to proceed with the support of the international community.”

Lee also quoted Tomita as replying that the Japanese government “has not finalized its decision and is aware of South Korea’s concerns,” adding that he would “agree to the two requests” from Lee.

“Ambassador Tomita said that all information is being shared in a transparent manner, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] has shared the position that [the release of contaminated water] is technically feasible and consistent with international practice,” Lee said.

Japan’s dumping of contaminated water from Fukushima into the ocean is a sensitive issue that could lead to an outpouring of anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea. The Japanese government is currently treating the water with an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) to remove radioactive substances and storing it in 1,000-ton tanks. The number of storage tanks has exceeded 1,300 to date, a matter of increasing concern for the Japanese government. Its current plan is to dilute the water and dump it into the Pacific Ocean. While the decision is a matter of Japanese sovereignty and has the support of parties such as the IAEA, it has the potential to escalate into a sensitive diplomatic issue for Seoul and Tokyo.

Lee also quoted Tomita as “sharing his hope for the resumption of interchange and aviation routes between South Korea and Japan.” At the same time, Lee noted, “The issues related to economic measures stem from the forced conscription issue, and it’s a framework where it’s difficult for such issues to be resolved first or separately.”

October 26, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Seoul mulls response to Fukushima water release

Demonstrators protest the Japanese government’s plan to discharge contaminated water into the ocean in front of the old Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Monday.

October 20, 2020

Seoul authorities are mulling how to respond to Japan’s impending decision on discharging radioactive water from the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, which could heighten concerns on public safety and environment here.

Tokyo is set to formally decide on Oct. 27 as to what to do with the more than 1 million tons of contaminated water it has collected since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Japanese media outlets said Tokyo has already made up its mind to dispose of the treated water that has been filtered to reduce radioactivity into the ocean, as the most “realistic option.”

As of Tuesday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry had not decided how to respond if its neighbor to the east presses ahead with the discharge. The government is handling the issue at a vice-ministerial meeting of related agencies to monitor Tokyo’s activities and come up with measures.

“The government has continued to call for Japan to share transparent information in regards to the disposal of the contaminated water of the Fukushima nuclear plant and has stressed the need to communicate with the international community,” Lee Jae-woong, the ministry’s deputy spokesman, said during a regular press briefing. “The government, with the foremost priority placed on the protection of our citizens’ health and safety, will devise measures in cooperation with the international community.”

The main concern for Korea is that the water, which has been filtered but is still slightly radioactive, could reach South Korea and threaten the safety of the waters and environment here, as well as of other neighboring nations that share the Pacific Ocean. Environmental activists have expressed strong opposition to the discharge, while fishermen and farmers in Japan have voiced concerns that consumers would shun seafood and produce from the region.

For years Japan has been debating how to dispose of the contaminated water, which has been stored in thousands of tanks inside the plant. But Tokyo Electric Power, the state-run operator of the plant, said the storage space is expected to run out in the summer of 2022.

Earlier this year, a panel of experts advising the Japanese government said that disposing of the water in the sea or vaporizing and releasing it into the air are the most “realistic options.” The International Atomic Energy Agency said that both of Japan’s options are technically feasible and have been used by other nuclear power plants around the world.

If Japan decides to discharge it, the water could be dumped as early as 2022, given the time needed for preparations.

The discharging of the water, regardless of what impact it will have on the environment and health, could further deal a blow to bilateral ties between Seoul and Tokyo, which is already frayed over issues of wartime history and trade.

Jeju Island Gov. Won Hee-ryong on Tuesday warned that his government will lodge a lawsuit against Japan both domestically and at the international court should Tokyo decide to discharge the water into the ocean. Research says the wastewater could reach the coastal areas of the southern resort island before any other location outside of Japan.

He also called Japan to disclose all information transparently regarding the contaminated water, and to discuss the issue with other neighboring countries.

By Ahn Sung-mi

October 26, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Half of Japanese against releasing radioactive water from Fukushima plant; Seoul, Beijing also concerned

October 20, 2020

A recent survey conducted by the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun shows about 50 percent of citizens in Japan are against their government’s plan to discharge radioactive water from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
The survey was conducted on over one-thousand eligible voters from across Japan.
Media reports say the fishing industry in Fukushima Prefecture is also opposed to the idea.

The governor of South Korea’s southern island of Jeju, Won Hee-ryong held a press conference on Tuesday, saying he will bring the case to both local and international courts if Japan goes ahead with its plan.
Seoul’s foreign ministry has also repeatedly voiced its concerns over the planned discharge.

“The South Korean government has been constantly emphasizing transparent information sharing and communication with the international community on the issue. We will prioritize our people’s health and safety, and continue efforts based on international cooperation.”

Beijing has also called on Tokyo to make a decision carefully after negotiating with its neighbors.
It pointed out that radioactive material from the 2011 tsunami and earthquake has already been discharged, posing a grave threat to the marine environment and human health.
The Japanese government is likely to officially announce its discharge plan early next week.

“We would like to deepen the discussion within the government and want to make a decision responsibly at an appropriate time.”

Experts warn of the danger from a radioactive substance called tritium, which will not be completely eliminated despite a purifying process.
But some say there aren’t many realistic measures to prevent Japan from discharging the contaminated water.
Sources say the South Korean government is currently focused on pressuring Japan to discharge it transparently and safely so the international community can, at the least, feel less concerned.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Jeju Governor Vows to Take Legal Action against Japan’s Fukushima Water Release

October 20, 2020

Jeju Province Governor Won Hee-ryong says he will launch both domestic and international lawsuits against Japan should it release radioactive water from its disabled Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Won urged Tokyo to halt preparations for the release, be transparent in providing all relevant information and data and begin consultations on the water disposal.

Stressing that he, as Jeju governor, has the duty to protect the safety of South Korean waters and people, Won said he will work with all those affected to mobilize all means in countering the move.

The governor added that the Japanese people, especially those living in coastal regions, are opposed to the water release as well.

Won suggested forming a group representing coastal area residents in both South Korea and Japan to take the Japanese government to criminal and civil courts in both countries, as well as to an international tribunal.

Tokyo is set to make a final decision on the water release on October 27.

October 26, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

South Korean Gov’t Concerned over Fukushima Daiichi’s Radioactive Water Release

Gov’t. Concerned over Japan Possibly Releasing Contaminated Water from Daiichi Plant

September 23, 2020

South Korea has expressed concerns over Japan strongly considering the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster site into the ocean.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said First Vice Minister Jeong Byung-seon revealed the plans in a virtual keynote speech during the 64th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) on Wednesday.  

Jeong said the international community, including South Korea, is growing concerned and nervous about the environment and its safety as Japan mulls such a possibility.   

The vice minister stressed the need to thoroughly analyze the mid-  and long-term damage the release could have on the environment and the appropriate way to go about it, given that it could affect global marine environments.  

In particular, Jeong said that in line with international laws, Japan is obligated to communicate with the international community in a transparent manner ahead of deciding on ways to dispose of the contaminated water and proposed that the IAEA play a key role in that process.

S.Korea concerned about Fukushima waste water

September 23, 2020

South Korea has again expressed its concerns about Japan’s plan to release into the sea radioactive wastewater building up at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The first vice minister of South Korea’s science ministry Jeong Byungseon was speaking at a general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Tuesday.

He said “releasing contaminated water into the ocean is not an issue of Japan itself, but one that could have a wider impact on the global marine environment, as well as the neighboring countries.”

He said Japan has “an overarching obligation to make transparent, concrete communication within the global society,” including South Korea, before making any disposal decision.

He asked the IAEA to play a proactive role in the issue.

At last year’s IAEA general meeting, South Korea raised questions about the issue and criticized Japan.

On Monday, Japan’s Science and Technology Policy Minister Inoue Shinji told the meeting that Japan is studying ways to dispose of the water, taking into consideration advice from the IAEA. He stressed Japan will provide careful and transparent explanations to the global community.

In February, a Japanese government expert panel came up with a report saying that diluting the wastewater below environmental and other standards, and discharging it into the sea, as well as vaporizing and releasing it into the air are realistic options.

The government plans to make a decision after hearing opinions from local residents and groups.

September 24, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment