The release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began on August 24, but opponents of the controversial method of disposal have not given up.
On August 28, two scientists and one political activist presented a severe criticism of the Japanese government’s approach to the issue to the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo. They were:
- Arjun Makhijani, PhD, a nuclear engineer and author who is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (based in Maryland, USA) and a member of the Expert Panel appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum (an organization of 18 Pacific island states, including Australia and New Zealand) to support consultations with Japan’s government on the Fukushima wastewater issue.
- Shinichi Kurokawa, professor emeritus of Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, which is located in the science city of Tsukuba northeast of Tokyo.
- Junichi Nukushina, a representative of the Civil Forum on Nuclear Radiation Damages of Japan, a private citizens’ organization that operates via an interactive website and social media.
The title of their presentation was “A Flawed Decision for Fukushima: Scientific Problems with the ALPS Water Treatment Plan.” ALPS, which stands for Advanced Liquid Processing System, is the purification system used to remove radioactive materials from the wastewater at Fukushima.
The main points raised were:
- The TEPCO dumping plan is not in accord with some IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) fundamental safety principles, requirements and guidelines.
- The IAEA has abandoned the interests of the Pacific region countries and its own principles guidance documents in favor of the Government of Japan, especially by refusing to examine whether the dumping is justified.
- Japan’s position that the Pacific region is one society and it can decide on everyone’s behalf that the dumping is justified is shocking and alarming. It opens the door to ecological chaos since anyone can now make the same assumption about dumping into the oceans.
- The Radiological Environmental Impact Assessment [REIA] on which the IAEA largely based its judgment of negligible impact is seriously deficient.
- It is time to stop the practice of “dilution is the solution to pollution.”
- Japan and the IAEA rejected the Expert Panel’s alternative to filter the water and make concrete, which would comply with IAEA safety principles and guidelines, without serious consideration.
On July 4, the IAEA announced that its safety review had concluded that Japan’s plans to release treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea were consistent with IAEA safety standards. Japan’s own Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the plan in May.
The IAEA also noted that “…the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea, as currently planned and assessed by TEPCO, would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”
This conclusion was reached after “nearly two years of work by an IAEA Task Force made up of top specialists from within the Agency advised by internationally recognized nuclear safety experts from eleven countries.”
But Makhijani pointed out that “The final report of the IAEA said that it would not inquire into the justification for the dumping [release or discharge of the treated radioactive water] because Japan had already made that decision before inviting IAEA review.”
In other words, the review was made after the decision, “which opens a giant loophole for any country to embark on an action that is not justified and then seek the imprimatur of the IAEA.”
Furthermore, “IAEA fundamental safety principle #4 on ‘justification’ requires that the proposed activity ‘must yield an overall benefit,’ but “Countries in the Pacific region will suffer some harm and receive no benefit.”
In response to a request from the Pacific Islands Forum, “Japan claimed that evaluating whether the benefit exceeded the harm for every country was not needed because the Pacific region is one society.”
Makhijani finds this statement particularly outrageous. “Japan’s unilateral decision,” he said, “about justification for all Pacific region countries without them having any decision-making authority is shocking and unacceptable.”
It “opens the way to possible ecological chaos since any country can claim that the Pacific Ocean defines a ‘society’ and then decide on polluting actions unilaterally.”
Furthermore, “if China made the same statement, we can imagine the reaction.”
“The IAEA,” he added, “could not identify any benefit to Pacific region countries during the 8/9 June 2023 meeting with the Expert Panel despite being explicitly asked.”
On the technical side, Makhijani identified four specific problems with the IAEA’s analysis:
- The REIA does not analyze indicator species that would best represent ecosystem impact.
- Consideration of bioconcentration of radionuclides, such as strontium-90, is very deficient.
- Re-concentration of radionuclides in sediments can be thousands and even hundreds of thousands of times (in the case of cobalt-60), preventing equilibrium from being achieved (unlike the assumption in the REIA).
- Reproductive system and transboundary impacts are not given due attention. For example, a study showing tritium impact on damage to fish eggs at concentrations lower than 1,500 Bq/L does not appear to have been taken into account.
Neither was the Expert Panel’s recommendation to filter the water and then make concrete with it, which “would avoid transboundary harms and have essentially zero doses to the public from tritium.” Makhijani went so far as to say that “The Japanese government did not consider the concrete option in good faith.”
Professor Kurokawa shed light on the Japanese government’s priorities by showing how G7 communiques issued in April and May were “falsified” when translated into Japanese. The statement in question reads as follows in English (key phrase in added italics):
“We support the IAEA’s independent review to ensure that the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water will be conducted consistent with the IAEA safety standards and international law and that it will not cause any harm to humans and the environment, which is essential for the decommissioning of the site and the reconstruction of Fukushima.”
The Japanese version, translated back into English, reads:
“We support the IAEA’s independent review to ensure that the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water that is essential for the decommissioning of the site and the reconstruction of Fukushima will be conducted consistent with the IAEA safety standards and international law and that it will not cause any harm to humans and the environment.”
Asked about this, Makhijani said the Japanese authorities had made it clear that there is no room to build more water tanks on the site, that the more than 1,000 tanks in which radioactive water is currently stored must be emptied and removed to make room for equipment needed for decommissioning.
The position of representative Nukushina and the Civil Forum on Nuclear Radiation Damages is that the Japanese government has “abandoned ‘justification” for discharge, “while stating that ‘if decommissioning is justified, then ocean discharge is also justified,’ comparing the ‘benefits of decommissioning’ with the ‘damage caused by exposure to radiation from ocean discharge.’ This bogus ‘justification’ is unacceptable.”
It is, however, understandable and logical. The site is crowded and the tanks are almost full.
For China, the issue is not so complicated. It has banned seafood imports from Japan and, as reported by Global Times mouthpiece, says that Tokyo’s decision to dump radioactive water into the sea will be “nailed to history’s mast of shame.” According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese have “violated their moral responsibilities and international legal obligations.”
In 2022, China (including Hong Kong) received about 40% of Japan’s seafood exports, so the ban will have a meaningful impact. Even Japan’s left-leaning Asahi Shimbun newspaper says this is “economic coercion pure and simple… Yet, China has refused to engage in talks with Japan based on solid scientific evidence. Beijing’s action is also a disservice to Chinese consumers who seek accurate information concerning health and safety.”
Meanwhile, thousands of hostile phone calls have reportedly been made from China to Japanese government offices, businesses and even a zoo. Reciprocally, China’s Embassy in Tokyo has complained about receiving calls from angry Japanese.
China’s actions came soon after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden at Camp David to form a trilateral front vis-à-vis China and North Korea. Despite widespread opposition to the release of water from Fukushima among South Koreans, Yoon said he accepts the IAEA’s conclusion.
North Korea and Russia do not, and Russia hopes to replace Japanese seafood exports to China. The European Union, on the other hand, has lifted restrictions on food imports from Japan that it imposed after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.
So science takes a back seat to politics and the fishermen of Fukushima can look forward to government subsidies, compensation from TEPCO and wondering if their way of life will survive. In 2022, the value of Fukushima’s fish catch was over 60% less than it was before the 2011 nuclear accident.
On August 23, Mark Brown, prime minister of the Cook Islands and chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), issued a statement that read in part:
“The decision by the Government of Japan… comes after over 28 months of consultations, including at the highest political level, and at the scientific level between the Pacific Islands Forum and the Government of Japan and PIF and the IAEA.
“We note the IAEA’s recommendations that the plans by Japan are consistent with international nuclear safeguards and that impacts on the environment and human health are negligible. At the same time, we appreciate the advice rendered by the independent PIF panel of scientific experts.
“It is not lost on me that there remain diverging views and responses in the international community, and within our Blue Pacific region. As Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, I am committed to maintaining ongoing dialogue with the Government of Japan and the IAEA on this matter.”
In July, a South Korean delegation led by opposition politicians visited Japan in an attempt to stop the release of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the ocean. It, too, appears to have had no impact on Japanese government policy.
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