Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident has generated more than 1.3 million tons of contaminated water, which contains more than 60 radionuclides and takes 30 years or even longer to be discharged into the ocean. Once the nuclear-contaminated water is discharged, the radionuclides it carries will be diffused into every corner of the sea.
Obviously, the disposal of the nuclear-contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant bears on the marine environment and public health of the whole world. It is by no means Japan’s private matter. Japan should never start its discharge plan before the concerns of all stakeholders and international community are properly addressed.
However, over the past two years, the Japanese side has been bent on implementing the plan and unilaterally pushed through it, trying to force unpredictable risks upon the international society. It fully revealed the country’s selfishness and arrogance.
Japan’s neighbors and the rest of the stakeholders must be fully consulted before any decision is made.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that when a state becomes aware of cases in which the marine environment is in imminent danger of being damaged or has been damaged by pollution, it shall immediately notify other states it deems likely to be affected by such damage, as well as the competent international organizations, to eliminate the effects of pollution and preventing or minimizing the damage.
As a contracting party of the UNCLOS and the country responsible for the marine pollution, Japan should carry out negotiation with its neighboring countries and the international community without preconditions, and discuss with them over safe and secure disposal plans. Any practice that pushes through Japan’s discharge plan is against the principles of the UNCLOS.
The Japanese side didn’t fully consult with the international community, especially the stakeholders, about its discharge plan. On the contrary, it risks universal condemnation to push through the plan.
In April 2021, the Japanese government unilaterally announced that it will discharge the nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, and it officially approved the discharge plan in July of 2022 in disregard of strong opposition from the international community especially from neighboring countries and other stakeholders, accelerating its preparations for the construction of discharge facilities.
This March, the Japanese side blatantly announced that it will not postpone the implementation of the plan. In June, the Japanese government, turning a deaf ear to the voices of opposition from across the world, started trial operation of the discharge equipment, making another step forward on the unilateral path. This month, it reiterated that the plan will be implemented this summer and remains unchanged.
What the Japanese government has done in the past two years fully proved that the Japanese side is only requesting the international community to accept the preconceived discharge plan and has shown no sincerity for negotiation.
The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had pledged not to start the procedure of the disposal of the nuclear-contaminated water without the understanding of relevant parties, and yet they are now going back on their words and insisting on going ahead with this plan.
Japan’s citizens and neighboring countries, as well as other stakeholders have run out of patience because of what Japan has said and done.
Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) secretary general Henry Puna noted that the Japanese government had pledged that they would stay in communication with the PIF on this matter and that the PIF would have access to all independent and verifiable scientific evidence. He said that so far, unfortunately, Japan has not been cooperating and that they are breaking the commitment.
Pacific Island countries demanded that the way forward should involve comprehensive international consultation not only through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) platform but through other relevant platforms such as UNCLOS and the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (the London Convention). This point deserves high attention from the international community.
Although Japan requested review and assessment from the IAEA out of domestic and international pressure, it didn’t show respect to the organization. The discharge plan was preconceived and always ran ahead of the IAEA review and assessment.
In July last year, Japan officially approved the ocean discharge plan when the IAEA Task Force’s review and assessment mission was still ongoing. In this January, the Japanese side announced unilaterally, ahead of the IAEA Task Force’s review trip to Japan, that the ocean discharge would start in the spring or summer this year. Due to the IAEA’s limited mandate, relevant conclusion in the IAEA report on Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water discharge is one-sided and has its limitations.
Such stubborn practice revealed to the world that the Japanese side only wants to unilaterally push through the discharge plan, and it has no respect for the IAEA and the task force’s authoritativeness.
Rather than following the principle of friendly negotiation, the Japanese side shifted blame, claiming that China had repeatedly refused Japan’s proposal on conducting expert dialogues based on science. This explains that Japan has never reflected on its erroneous decision to implement the discharge plan. The Japanese side should ask itself what such dialogues can do when its discharge plan is preconceived. If Japan has any sincerity about having consultation, it should announce a suspension of the ocean discharge, allow stakeholders, including neighboring countries, to conduct independent sample analysis of the nuclear-contaminated water, and agree to discuss alternatives to ocean discharge.
If Japan continues to push for ocean discharge, it will only spark stronger opposition. The country should face up to the legitimate concerns from the international community, be responsible for the world’s marine environment and public health, and carry out full and meaningful consultation with stakeholders, including neighboring countries.
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