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Japan courts outcry with Fukushima plan

By Liu Xuan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-27 10:07
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Storage tanks for radioactive water are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan on Jan 15, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Decision nears on proposal to dump contaminated reactor water into sea

Nearly a decade on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan's proposed release of more than 1 million tons of contaminated water into the ocean is worrying its neighbors.

Some 1.2 million tons of radioactive cooling water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant will be released once the formal go-ahead is publicly announced this month, local media said.

It is reported that the Japanese government, led by new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, has already made up its mind on the issue, which has troubled other countries since the proposal was first advanced.

The disposal of the contaminated water has been a long-standing problem for Japan as it proceeds with a decadeslong decommissioning project at the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a devastating tsunami.

Aside from the amount that is currently stored at the facility, 170 tons of new radioactive waste water are generated each day and stored in 1,000 specially designed tanks.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, estimates that all the available tanks will be filled by the summer of 2022.

Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said no decision had yet been made on the disposal of the water, but the government aims to do so quickly.

Japan's intentions are rankling neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, as the released water will still be radioactive even after being treated.

Sun Yuliang, a nuclear expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said in an interview that a decision whether to dump the waste water should rest on an authoritative scientific assessment to determine whether the processed radioactive water meets international standards for release.

Liu Junhong, a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Japan should further communicate with the international community and share information transparently.

The Japanese government should give priority to safeguarding public health and safety and the environment, rather than the cost of the rehabilitation work arising from the disaster in March 2011, Liu added.

South Korea claims that a go-ahead to discharge the water would represent a "grave threat" to the marine environment. The country has stepped up radiation testing on food from Japan.

'Reputational damage'

The plan could further devastate the fishing industry around Fukushima. Operators engaged in the trade have for years been battling against moves for ocean disposal of the water, while trying to restore confidence in their industry.

"We vigorously oppose a release of contaminated water into the ocean as it will clearly cause reputational damage," said Toshihito Ono, the head of a fish wholesalers and processors group in Fukushima Prefecture.

If the government pushes ahead with the plan, the decision would again cast doubts on how Japan handles issues relating to environmental protection and crisis response, as well as sustainable development, observers say.

For Japan, the glare of global attention over the disposal of the contaminated water comes against the backdrop of criticism over a recent environmental disaster.

Japan's handling of the response to an oil spill involving a Japanese ship near Mauritius in July damaged its reputation.

The Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio, carrying about 3,800 tons of fuel oil, ran aground on a coral reef near the eastern coast of Mauritius on July 25.

On Aug 6, the ship began leaking fuel into the Mahebourg Lagoon, fouling a protected wetlands area, mangroves and a small island that was a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

Japan approached Mauritius at the outset of the emergency, offering to share deep scientific knowledge with the country.

However, anger in Mauritius greeted claims from Japanese scientists that the deaths of whales and dolphins, found in the area, could be attributed to natural causes and stress. The investigating scientists maintained this position even after oil was detected in the carcasses.

Japan had earlier stoked international anger when, in Dec 2018, Suga, then chief cabinet secretary, announced that the country would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission "in order to resume commercial whaling" in July 2019.

The government claimed the move was to preserve the country's tradition of hunting whales for food.

With Suga having stepped up to become the new prime minister last month, it is unclear how Japan will handle the leftovers of environmental disasters that have dogged the country and undermined its image.

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