Like a rogue nation, Japan releases its nuclear garbage without concern for its neighbors or people
Published: Oct 04, 2023 01:14 PM Updated: Oct 04, 2023 04:51 PM
Japan's dangerous move. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Japan's dangerous move. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

The commencement of the second phase of dumping nuclear-contaminated wastewater from Fukushima is scheduled for October 5. Despite widespread opposition both domestically and internationally, Japan has insisted on its dumping plan.What could countries do during the planned discharge of nuclear-contaminated water during the next 30-40 years? Einar Tangen (Tangen), a senior fellow of the Beijing-based think tank Taihe Institute, founder and chairman of China Cities Bluebook Consulting and former chairman of the State of Wisconsin's International Trade Council, shared his insights with Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin. 

GT: You have been opposing Japan's dumping of the nuclear-contaminated water into the sea and you said that this is basically throwing garbage on the front lawn of the Pacific Islands. People from countries around the Pacific have been the main force opposing Japan's dumping plan. Why did we fail to stop Japan?

Tangen: Japan seems concerned only about its internal politics and short-term costs, but there seems to be a massive misunderstanding in terms of what the Japanese people want. The mainstay of the Japanese people is seafood. It's not only that they've thrown garbage out onto the front lawn of the South Pacific, but they've also done so in their own backyard. 

Japan will see higher seafood prices. The Japanese fishing industry will suffer a severe decline. That puts a lot of fishermen out of work, in an industry that provides livelihoods for thousands and adds billions to Japan's economy. 

It's going to be devastating, but the Japanese government seems paralyzed and unable to consider rational alternatives to what will bring long-term damage to their economy. Keep in mind the release of nuclear-contaminated waste water, which was exposed to the melted core, will continue for the next 30 years. 

A number of alternatives were presented and then rejected without study. One strategy has been trying to hide behind the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The ALPS system, which is the treatment system they use, was never approved by the IAEA. The truth is, that the IAEA has only had access to information provided by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which has been found guilty of lying repeatedly from the moment of the tsunami. 

TEPCO lied about the safety precautions. They tried to obfuscate the fact that the plant should never have been built so close to the water, and they secretly released additional water. The Japanese government itself has been less than opaque, it has fined TEPCO executives severely but continues to rely on them for data and recommendations. Both the Japanese and international communities are concerned about the opaque decision-making process.

At this juncture, Japan is acting like a rogue nation, releasing its nuclear garbage without concern for its neighbors or people. With a few exceptions, the international press has played down the massive protests and strong opposition in Japan, South Korea, China, the US, and the South Pacific. 

Washington continues to cite its shared values with Japan, but what do they stand for? At this point, it looks like values only have meaning when they are convenient to Washington. It's like nothing counts unless it's good for America. The problem with this kind of "realpolitik" has its own logical direction and one that doesn't match Washington's lofty rhetoric.

GT: While Japan is discharging nuclear-contaminated water, China, on the other hand, is somehow facing criticism from the West for opposing the release of nuclear-contaminated water. How do you view this? 

Tangen: This is just gaslighting. If China was releasing nuclear-contaminated water, what do you think Washington's reaction would be? Politics above science, like Covid-19 when there is a short-term political or economic goal in sight. 

If there is no scientific basis for China's concerns, then maybe the US should agree to buy up all of the seafood that's coming out of that area, and see if they can sell it to their consumers. "Fresh from Fukushima!" That would be interesting. Let's see Washington tell Americans that they shouldn't worry about anything. Or, perhaps, they can sell the idea to the Japanese people directly and save the transportation costs. 

It's amazing, when a country that holds its own sovereignty so dear it won't participate in the International Criminal Court, sign on to UN Conventions to protect women and children, ratify the UN Convention on Laws of the Seas, it nevertheless enforces against others, all while continuing to neuter the WTO by refusing to allow Appellate judges; feels entitled to tell other sovereign nations how to protect the health of their people. It's even more ironic given the polarized, violence-plagued, debt-ridden, reality of the US itself. 

The only thing that the elites in Washington can agree on is "it's China's fault" - environmental problems in the US, China's fault; global climate change, China's fault; the unrest in America, China's fault; the US economic decline due to lack of competitiveness, China's fault; America's runaway national debt, China's fault, and so on. The only thing I am certain of is that there will come a point when the American people are not going to be fooled and told, that it's China's fault. 

GT: Some regions have started to suspend the import of Japanese seafood products. Apart from this, what do you think other countries can do during the planned discharge of nuclear-contaminated water during the next 30-40 years?

Tangen: There is nothing they can do except monitor. The problem is that the monitoring done by the Japanese and spoon-fed to the IAEA is not reliable. Given TEPCO's track record of lying, what are the chances that they're telling the truth now? 

TEPCO has only sampled three percent of the water that they're holding, many of the tanks have not been tested or the results have not been released. I doubt any scientist would agree that three percent is a correct sampling, especially since testing each holding tank could be done within hours. 

They have hundreds of storage tanks, they just need to withdraw a little water from each and do a test. How difficult is that, right? Instead, they're saying, we've tested three percent and that's good enough. Clearly, they don't want to disclose what's in those tanks. 

At a minimum the IAEA should be doing the tests, they are qualified, have the equipment, and are supposedly neutral, so why aren't they allowed to do independent testing? Why do they continue to say what is happening is "consistent with an effort to address the situation"? Why aren't they insisting? They certainly haven't been shy in the past when confronted with issues in Iran and other countries. You have to ask yourself why would anybody trust a company that has repeatedly lied. A company that continues to make it clear they have no detailed knowledge of what's in the storage tanks, despite the obvious fact that they control access to the storage tanks. Under such circumstances, the "just dilute and release it" approach has to be questioned. 

It seems they figure that if they keep releasing it for the next 30 years, people will get used to it and won't complain.

TEPCO executives were ordered by the court to pay billions of dollars for the Fukushima disaster. (The Tokyo district court judged that the executives could have prevented the disaster if they had exercised due care.) And yet, TEPCO continues to be in charge of one of the most sensitive nuclear disasters. And no one seems to think that that's odd. It's like a criminal who robbed a bank is tasked with supervising the investigation. 

Why on earth would the Japanese government be relying on them? It begs a lot of questions and certainly is cause for any nation to take action to protect their people. Because that is what good governments are supposed to do.