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Nuclear water or new clear water: A choice on moral perspective

By Xin Ping | | Updated: 2021-05-12 19:43
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An aerial view shows the storage tanks for treated water at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Feb 13, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. [Photo/Agencies]

It has been almost a month since the Japanese government announced it will release 1.25 million tons of wastewater contaminated by the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean. The furious protests against the move inside and outside the country seem to be met with a deaf ear by Tokyo. Facing criticism across the globe, it's rather satirical that Japanese Vice-Prime Minister Aso Taro argued that the Pacific belongs to everyone.

Normally in a place belonging to everyone, someone throwing trash around would be deemed morally stained, and throwing hazardous materials would even constitute a crime. Despite Mr. Aso's gibberish, we're all witnessing a fabrication of history, which the Japanese government has always been so good at. For one thing, they like to erase collective memories that should be preserved; for another, they tend to add things that should not be there at all. No one has ever witnessed such an unprecedented decision to release nuclear contaminated water into the ocean. After picking up their jaws from the floor, people just could not help asking:

What damage will the decision bring?

Physical harm. In a report published by the environmental NGO Greenpeace, researchers argued that the contaminated water contains dangerous levels of carbon-14 and other radioactive isotopes, which could easily accumulate through the food chain and damage human DNA. Although Japan claimed that the treated water stored in the tanks was not contaminated, three United Nations experts upheld in a joint statement that Japan's initial treatment of the water did not meet the required standard, and a second similar treatment will not be a sure triumph. Moreover, the UN experts claimed that the radioactive hazards of tritium in the water have been underestimated and could pose risks to human beings and the environment for over 100 years. With the Pacific waves pushing back and forth, it is merely a matter of time for the radiation to spread to each and every part of the maritime ecosystem.

Mental trauma. The decision also brings human rights challenges. Baskut Tuncak, former UN special rapporteur on disposal of hazardous substances and waste, noted that, "It is their [local citizens] human right to an environment that allows for living a life in dignity, to enjoy their culture, and to not be exposed deliberately to additional radioactive contamination. Those rights should be fully respected and not be disregarded by the government in Tokyo".

Not only local citizens but all stakeholders will be living beneath the shadow of the Japanese government's decision in fear that the radioactive materials will be problematic sooner or later.

Is the Japanese government out of alternatives?

Not really. A primary reason why the Japanese government made the decision, as reported, is that The Tokyo Electric Power Co, a unicorn company responsible for the clean-up, has run out of space for storage tanks at the site. However, people simply cannot understand the connections between the lack of space and the discharge into the ocean. More eco-friendly solutions do exist, but the Japanese government thought otherwise.

The aforementioned UN experts also argued that, "The decision is particularly disappointing as experts believe alternative solutions to the problem are available".

Scientists have proposed other plans, including injecting the water into rocks deep beneath the ground or dumping it into concrete pits that are specially rendered. But the Japanese government still chose to discharge the water to the ocean, simply because it is the cheapest way out. In addition, the discharge is not in a hurry at all. At least, it will not be an impossible option to continue building the tanks until a better solution comes out.

Why at the Expense of Others?

Indeed, the Japan government can save a large sum of money by releasing millions of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific, but such a decision should never be made at the sacrifice of the health of people around the Pacific rim. Japan is like a sophisticated risk controller who stays crystal clear not to put all their eggs in one basket. But the problem is, why on earth should other countries pay for the Japanese government's misconduct? Where has the so-called Japanese traditional virtue of not causing trouble for others gone?

Many countries around the Pacific rim, including China and the Republic of Korea, as well as some Central American and Pacific sland countries, have teamed up in denouncing such an irresponsible scheme. They are all stakeholders in the issue, and their people should have the right to review whether Japanese's notion will bring harm to their interests. Perhaps it should come across the mind of Tokyo politicians that such a decision at the expense and without approval of other stakeholders is certainly invalid and worth denouncing. After all, the nuclear water to be pumped into the Pacific Ocean is certainly not new, clear water.

In short, do not let others pay for one's own mistake. This is one of the moral ABCs taught in kindergarten. It is never too late for the Japanese government to act in a more responsible manner.

The author is a commentator on international affairs.

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