CHINA / SOCIETY
Update: Japan decides to dump Fukushima water despite possibility of centuries of damage to ocean and lives
China could unite neighboring countries to sue Japan
Published: Apr 12, 2021 09:37 PM
On Monday, activists take part in a protest outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan, against the Japanese government's plan to release treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. Japan has decided to release treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, reports said Friday, despite strong opposition from local fishermen. Photo: AFP

On Monday, activists take part in a protest outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan, against the Japanese government's plan to release treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. Japan has decided to release treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, reports said Friday, despite strong opposition from local fishermen. Photo: AFP


Japan announced on Tuesday that it will discharge radioactive water from the disaster-stricken nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture into the ocean, depicting it as the best option despite strong objections from the international community, and especially neighboring countries.

The plan was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday, which will allow Japan to release the radioactive water in two years. 

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday said dumping treated water containing radioactive substances to the ocean is "unavoidable" and there is "no time to delay" for the reconstruction of Fukushima. 

Concerns remain high among Japanese fishermen and consumers as well as neighboring countries such as South Korea and China. 

Analysts and environmental organizations called on the Japanese government to think twice and be transparent and cautious in discharging the radioactive water into the ocean.

Japan should not turn a blind eye or pretend to be deaf when the international community generally doubts and objects to such a plan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday.

Zhao called on Japan to cautiously handle the issue and avoid making the radioactive wastewater pose further damage to the marine environment, food safety and humans. 

The Global Times reached the Fukushima Fisheries Cooperative Association (FCA) on Monday, and an employee from the FCA surnamed Sawada said the association has never altered its position to oppose the Japanese government discharging the water into the sea.

As Japanese fishermen have not recovered from food safety concerns after the Fukushima disaster, discharging the radioactive water will worsen such concerns. It is still a question how Japanese fishermen will make a living after the discharge and how the government will compensate them, Sawada said. 

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace East Asia, told the Global Times on Monday that it was previously believed that the East China Sea did not receive significant cesium contamination during the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, but a model by Nanjing University in 2018 showed the cesium discharges from 2011 into the Pacific Ocean spread widely reaching the East China Sea by 2013, reaching their peak in 2019. 

Many of the radionuclides in the water that will be discharged have the potential to cause damage to human and non-human DNA. The water treatment method of the Fukushima power plant cannot remove tritium or carbon 14, and does not remove all of the other radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90, iodine 129, cobalt-16. If those radionuclides persist in the environment for a long time, they will progressively enter the food chain, Burnie warned. 

Since 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the Fukushima plant, has stored 1.25 million tons of irradiated cooling water in tanks.

Despite some arguments that the ecological environment of the ocean could restore itself because the ocean has self-purification ability, Zhu Jianzhen, former vice president of Guangdong Ocean University, said it is an "untenable" claim.

"Unless we see this issue in the span of thousands of years, the adverse effects of the disposal in the ocean will not disappear in a short period of time or even a few hundred years," Zhu told the Global Times.

Zhu noted discharging the contaminated water into the ocean is of great negative impact to the ocean and neighboring countries because partial ocean currents will eventually integrate with the whole ocean, especially resulting in a negative impact on marine organisms and plants in the East China Sea and Yellow River basins. Human beings are also at risk of suffering from pathological damage after consuming radioactive contaminated marine animals, he noted.

Kyodo News, citing the Japanese government, said the storage capacity of water tanks at the Fukushima complex is expected to run out as early as fall next year, that's why it cannot continue postponing the disposal issue.

The "2022 deadline" is nonexistent, as it is merely a statement being used in an attempt to justify its decision, Burnie told the Global Times on Monday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government committee on water have acknowledged that there is sufficient storage space at the Fukushima site, as well as on the surrounding areas of Fukushima prefecture to build additional storage capacity, according to Greenpeace. 

When there are available options out there, the Japanese government still takes the plunge because they consider dumping the sewage into the sea "the cheapest option," Burnie noted. Such decision disregards the legal obligations of Japan to protect the marine environment under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao said China has expressed its grave concern to Japan through diplomatic channels, urging the Japanese government to take a responsible attitude and prudently deal with the issue of nuclear wastewater disposal at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. 

Zhu suggested that China can unite with neighboring countries to file legal cases against the Japanese government to withdraw the decision or demand compensation.

China's accession to UNCLOS allows it to take action within the framework, Zhu told the Global Times on Monday. 

Sawada said the FCA will also continue to object to such decision before the plant operator actually starts the discharge in the next two years.

Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, urged that a neutral international scientific assessment be carried out before deciding whether the waste water can be dumped or not. The international investigation should request transparent and public data from the Japanese government and assess a variety of measures of waste water treatment and their potential risks and damages, Lin stressed.

The reason why the Japanese government regards the issue as one that cannot be further delayed is that the current period of time will minimize the impact of strong public opposition on the key governmental agenda, such as the general election and the Tokyo Olympic Games, said Da Zhigang, director and research fellow of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. 

Analysts noted that if the Japanese government releases the radioactive water, countries are likely to stop imports of seafood from Japan, and foreigners will be unwilling to visit the country, which would harm Japan's economy.


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