Japan must not take the IAEA report to shield its ocean discharge

By Zhong Sheng, People’s Daily

The Japanese government got excited after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a comprehensive report on the disposal of nuclear-contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, taking the report as a shield that keeps off opposing voices against its plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the sea.

However, this carefully worded report needed to fully reflect the views of experts who participated in the review. All experts did not share the conclusion and failed to review the justification and legitimacy of Japan’s ocean discharge plan. The attempt of the Japanese side is doomed to end up in vain.

The report cannot give legitimacy to Japan’s plan of discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. 

Japan’s unilateral decision to dump nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific is based entirely on minimizing economic costs and will transfer risks to the world. Japan is the only beneficiary of the decision. At the same time, other countries in and near the Pacific will be forced to shoulder risks and spend vast resources coping with possible harmful situations.

When the Japanese side requested the IAEA to review its discharge plan two years ago, it excluded other safer and better projects. The IAEA only reviewed the project that the Japanese side submitted.

The report said that the responsibility for justifying the decision to discharge the treated water falls to the Japanese government, which is essential for stakeholders. Japan’s discharge plan was not recommended or endorsed by the IAEA.

The report cannot fully prove that it’s safe and harmless to discharge nuclear-contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the ocean.

The nuclear-contaminated water contains over 60 radionuclides, and there is not yet effective technology to treat many of those radionuclides. Japan’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) ‘s effectiveness and maturity have not been evaluated or certified by a third party, and the facility has repeatedly malfunctioned.

According to data released by Japan, over 70 percent of ALPS-treated nuclear-contaminated water failed to meet the discharge standards. Japan’s discharge of nuclear-contaminated water will last as long as 30 years or even longer. How can it prove the long-term reliability of the ALPS? Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has a record of manipulating data and concealing accidents. How can the review based on statistics and information provided by this company assure the international community? The report said that the conclusions on safety were reached based on Japan’s discharge plan and will establish a long-term mechanism that monitors the discharge, which exactly proves the long-term risks of discharging the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.

The report cannot exempt the Japanese side from its due responsibilities and obligations under international law.

The international community is concerned about Japan’s discharge plan because it fears that Japan would transfer the risks of nuclear contamination to the rest of humanity, which is inconsistent with Japan’s obligations under international law.

Some long-lived radionuclides may spread with the ocean currents. What impacts will they have on the ecological balance of the coastal waters of Japan’s neighboring countries? Will they form a bio-concentration and pose potential hazards to food safety and human health by mitigating marine species and the food chain? No one has given convincing answers to these questions, be it the Japanese side or the IAEA.

Besides, such discharge violates Japan’s obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws and the provisions against dumping radioactive wastes from manufactured structures at sea in the London Convention. The Japanese side cannot deny that such discharge is suspected of violating its international obligations no matter how it whitewashes its intention.

The Japanese side is trying to hype the voice that distrusting the report is harming the authoritativeness of the IAEA. However, the most significant harm to the organization’s authoritativeness came from Japan’s efforts to limit the organization’s authorization in reviewing the discharge plan, which finally led to incomplete and conditional conclusions of the report.

A recent poll in Japan shows that 40 percent of the respondents oppose discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. A joint survey by South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo and Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun revealed that more than 80 percent of South Koreans disagree with Japan’s discharge plan.

Experts and citizens from Pacific island countries, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, and Peru, have staged frequent protests against the discharge plan, and the Chinese strongly oppose Japan’s practice.

Regrettably, Japan has disregarded this and stubbornly announced that it would start discharging the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean as scheduled this summer. It slandered other countries’ legitimate concerns and even mentioned water discharge from the regular operation of nuclear power plants and dumping nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean in the same breath. This is different from what a responsible country does.

Japan has the responsibility and obligation to offer an explanation to the world on its discharge plan, which is a significant issue that concerns the public interests of the international community.

It should be clear that the IAEA report cannot quiet the world’s doubts about its discharge plan or become a “shield” or “green light” for the project. 

The country should faithfully fulfill its moral responsibility and obligations under international law, stop pushing forward the ocean discharge plan, thoroughly study alternatives to the ocean discharge, carry out a full consultation with neighboring countries and other stakeholders, and earnestly dispose of the nuclear-contaminated water in a science-based, safe and transparent manner.

(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy and international affairs.)

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