Japan releases nuclear waste water into Pacific Ocean, China bans seafood

Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station in 2007. (Fukushima, Japan) [Photo: Wikimedia/ Tokyo Electric Power Co., TEPCO]

On Thursday, as Japan began dumping over a million metric tons of nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the disabled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, scientists and conservation groups are again appealing to Japan to rethink its plan.

James Bhagwan, a Fijian anti-nuclear activist and general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, a regional ecumenical organization, pointed out that a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, which said Japan’s plans to release treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power station are consistent with international safety standards, has been “disputed by a panel of independent global experts” appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum, or PIF.

One of those experts is Robert Richmond, director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

He said on July 17: “The peoples of the Pacific did not contribute to the present problems … but have much at risk for generations to come.”

On July 5, Richmond told the BBC’s Newsday program: “We’ve seen an inadequate radiological, ecological impact assessment that makes us very concerned that Japan would not only be unable to detect what’s getting into the water, sediment and organisms; but if it does, there is no recourse to remove it … There’s no way to get the genie back in the bottle.”

Analysts disagree with Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who turned to back the Japanese plan after meeting with Japanese visitors, saying recently that he is satisfied that Tokyo has met all its obligations as set out by the IAEA.

The Tokyo announcement follows months of bitter debate on what the discharge will mean and concerns over the impact on the ocean.

Bhagwan said the Pacific has a long legacy of being a dumping ground when it comes to nuclear waste. He was referring to French (1966-96) and the United States’ (1946-62) nuclear tests in the last century, the impacts of which are still being felt today by local people.

The Fiji-based Alliance for Future Generations, a youth advocacy group, is not convinced that dumping nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific is the best option.

The majority of residents and governments in Pacific island countries reject Japan’s plan to dispose of wastewater.

Fishermen and some parties in Japan also reject the disposal of radioactive contaminated water into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.

China is “highly concerned about the risk of radioactive contamination brought by… Japan’s food and agricultural products,” the customs bureau said in a statement.

The Japanese government signed off on the plan two years ago and it was given a green light by the U.N. nuclear watchdog last month. The discharge is a key step in decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant after it was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) (9501.T) said the release began at 1:03 pm local time (0403 GMT) and it had not identified any abnormalities.

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