Japan's Release of Radioactive Nuclear Wastewater into Pacific Ocean

Japanese People and Peoples of Neighbouring Countries Strenuously Condemn This Move

K.C. Adams

Protest in Seoul Korea against dumping of radioactive water, July 15, 2023.

Despite widespread local and international opposition, the Japanese government and nuclear power monopoly Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) started releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on August 23. The plant was crippled in an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.

The move was condemned by the Japanese people and by neighbouring countries. Fears of local fishing communities next to the plant that their years of work to convince consumers that Fukushima's seafood is safe would be wiped out have now come to pass.

The release of the radioactive water prompted China to announce an immediate blanket ban on all aquatic products from Japan. "By dumping the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, Japan is spreading huge risks to the rest of the world, and openly passing long-term harm onto future generations of humanity," China said. Japan exported about $600 million worth of aquatic products to China in 2022, making it the biggest market for Japanese exports, with Hong Kong second. Sales to China and Hong Kong accounted for 42 per cent of all Japanese aquatic exports in 2022, according to government data.

In Hong Kong, protestors declared, "Japan's actions in discharging contaminated water are very irresponsible, illegal, and immoral." They further stated, "No one can prove that the nuclear waste and materials are safe. They are completely unsafe."

In south Korea, police arrested at least 16 protesters who entered the Japanese embassy in Seoul, where they unfurled banners condemning both Japan and the government of south Korea for going along with this environmental crime. The students, who belong to organizations focused on social and environmental causes, including the Peace Nabi Network and Eco Action, held a rally where they chanted and held up signs. Among the slogans were "We condemn President Yoon for selling out public lives for election fears," "The Korean public opposes the release of contaminated water," and "You call yourself the Korean president yet you don't say a negative word about the contaminated water."

Protests at Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea, August 24, 2023 oppose
Japan's dumping of radioactive water.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said, "The sea, the origin of living things and common wealth of humankind, is facing a serious crisis of nuclear pollution. The Japanese government decided to discharge nuclear-polluted water from the Fukushima Atomic Power Plant into the sea despite opposition and warnings of the international community."

In the Philippines, the fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakayang Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said in a statement that the treated wastewater from the nuclear power plant could reach and contaminate the marine resources and biodiversity of the Philippines' eastern archipelago. Pamalakaya said discharging the wastewater into the Pacific Ocean might pose long-term and drastic consequences to domestic fisheries' production and the abundant marine biodiversity. "We demand the Japanese government stop this environmental catastrophe in the making, and instead find alternative ways to dispose of their nuclear waste elsewhere," the group asserted.

Local Japanese fishers and the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations (JF Zengyoren) has led a broad coalition seeking an alternative method to deal with the problem, to no avail. International voices demanding another solution rather than polluting the ocean came from China, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea and the Pacific Islands Forum, which said it had "grave concerns." Environmental groups challenged the Japanese government's claims that the water will not affect marine life or human health. The U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories pointed to a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data to support the Japanese government's reassurances on safety.

Protest in Fukushima against release of contaminated water, April 14, 2023

The Japanese government's action also violates its 2015 written commitment to the JF Zengyoren, Fukushima fishers' cooperatives, the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly and most of the local assemblies in Fukushima, in which it promised "not to dispose of radioactive Fukushima water without obtaining the understanding of all concerned parties." Such an understanding was never reached.

Zhang Kejian, Chairperson of China Atomic Energy Authority, speaking at an International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors' meeting in June in Vienna, stressed that the amount of nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the plant is significant, and the composition is complex and the disposal period is an unprecedented length. According to Zhang, no effective technology exists to treat the number of nuclides to be released. Some long-lived nuclides may diffuse with ocean currents, which will bring unpredictable impacts on marine ecology and human health. For Japan to push forward with the discharge of contaminated water without verifying the long-term reliability of relevant technology and purification equipment and in addition attempt to cover up the danger is "unacceptable," Zhang noted in conclusion.

Protest in Seoul, Korea, May 20, 2023

Expediency Created Conditions for Disaster

Further tainting the situation is the realization that expediency on cost has governed TEPCO and the government right from the beginning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and electric power production generally. Most electric power production throughout Japan comes from nuclear or coal-fired plants. Necessary electrical infrastructure has been deemed from the beginning to be provided at the lowest cost to industrial consumers. Since the widespread privatization of the infrastructure for power production, maximum profit for the private producers has further increased expediency over any principles.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located in one of the most active earthquake zones in the world with an ancient and current record of large tsunamis. In addition, earthquakes as far away as Chile across the ocean have generated frequent destructive tsunamis along the Japanese Pacific coast. Despite this scientific record and knowledge not only was the nuclear power plant built on top of an active earthquake zone but at sea level as can be seen in the photo below. TEPCO and the government explain this decision with the typical pragmatic response that water is needed to cool the reactors and the cheapest location is next to the sea.

 TEPCO file photo shows the 2011 tsunami surge approaching the
sea-level Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The reactor buildings at the Fukushima power plant were damaged by hydrogen explosions caused by the nearby 9.2 magnitude earthquake in 2011 with the subsequent tsunami knocking out the cooling systems to the reactors with three of them suffering meltdowns. To contain the situation from becoming worse and prepare for decommissioning of the entire plant, more than 1.3 million tonnes of water have been used to cool the three crippled reactors.

Upon cooling the reactors and radioactive debris scattered throughout the basement of the plant, the water itself becomes contaminated. The radioactive wastewater is treated in a filtration system, which cannot remove all the harmful elements specifically tritium. The tritium contaminated water is then stored in tanks on site. TEPCO says this method will continue for at least 40 years until decommissioning and cleanup are complete. Meanwhile the tanks holding contaminated water on site are almost full and occupy all available space in the location and no alternative to dumping the water in the ocean exists according to TEPCO as every day brings more contaminated water to store.

How to dispose of radioactive waste looms over nuclear power production as an unsolved problem. At present, most of the dangerous waste is stored for disposal by future generations and advances in science. Japan has limited areas where radioactive waste can be safely stored such as underground because of the prevalence of earthquakes. TEPCO, other monopolies and the government have sought to pay countries including Canada to accept Japan's nuclear waste.[1] Not investing in finding solutions to this problem is another aspect of the expediency on price of production that governs the imperialists and their central aim of generating not social product for the good of all including the natural environment but maximum money profit for private enterprise.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 9 - September 2023

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