The world was shocked by the news that Japan began releasing waste water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea on August 24, 2023. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stated that the wastewater to be discharged into the Pacific Ocean is safe because it is first treated to dilute it and then filtered to remove radioactive substances except for tritium, which is below the threshold of international agreements. The volume of water discharged into the Pacific Ocean is estimated to be more than one million metric tons of radioactive water. Therefore, the disposal of this waste water is expected to take decades in stages.
This wastewater disposal is related to the 2011 tsunami in Japan, where TEPCO pumped water to cool the fuel rods of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. As a result, TEPCO produces contaminated water daily, which is stored in large tanks. More than 1,000 large tanks are already filled to capacity, and Japan has stated that it needs the land occupied by these tanks to build new facilities for the safe decommissioning of the plant.
Japan, through TEPCO, has stated that it has conducted studies showing that this wastewater poses little risk to humans and the ocean. However, this policy has created pros and cons for countries around the world, especially Japan’s neighbors in East Asia. The two camps referred to in this article are those who support Japan and those who oppose Japan in implementing its wastewater discharge policy.
In implementing this policy, Japan has the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United States. The IAEA states that the effects of Japan’s actions are minor and therefore negligible. The IAEA also believes that TEPCO is capable of accurately measuring the amount of radiation contained in the treated water. Meanwhile, the United States believes that Japan has been transparent and that the water to be discharged is safe. The U.S. State Department spokesperson also stated that the United States is pleased with Japan’s science-based actions with internationally accepted nuclear safety standards.
On the other hand, many parties feel that Japan’s policy is detrimental to other countries, even though it has received permission from the IAEA. China is one of the countries that has been very vocal in opposing this Japanese policy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said that Japan has inappropriately influenced the IAEA’s comprehensive assessment report and that Japan should be responsible for providing a credible explanation. China said that transferring nuclear pollution risks to the rest of the world is immoral and illegal, and urged Japan to take into account the concerns of the international community.
Given China’s position close to Japan, this is one of China’s concerns. China also urged the IAEA to come up with a responsible result on the policy, including an evaluation report that goes through the scientific testing stage, in which the plan to dump nuclear waste into the sea should not be supported. China strongly accuses Japan of violating international law and putting its selfish interests ahead of the long-term welfare of all mankind. In response to Japan’s actions, China is now banning seafood imports from Japan, which is believed to have an impact on Japan’s fishing industry.
In addition to China, South Korea has also expressed concern about Japan’s policies. South Korean media also reported that Japanese officials had offered bribes in the IAEA Comprehensive Assessment Report. The act of opposition led to the recall of the Japanese ambassador to Seoul. In fact, South Korean President, Moon Jae In, ordered his officials to explore a petition to the International Court of Justice. Although there have been some actions by the South Korean government against Japan, some civilians argue that the South Korean government has also “respected” the IAEA findings. In contrast to the South Korean government’s “two-legged politics” stance, polls show that 80% of South Koreans are concerned about the impact of Japan’s policies. In addition, a wave of demonstrations by South Korean civilians took place as a form of protest against Japan, followed by the leader of the South Korean Democratic Party, Lee Jae Myung. Lee said that Japan’s actions were a crime in South Korea and the world.
Protests against the Japanese government come not only from neighboring countries, but also from its own citizens. Now, Japanese fishermen are also concerned about Japan’s fisheries for their livelihood and the quality of fish for consumption, which led to a lawsuit by more than 200 fishermen around Fukushima Prefecture to the Fukushima District Court. According to the fishermen, the Japanese government failed to obtain the consent of the fishermen before taking such political action. In this case, the Japanese government has damaged the image of Japanese fishing that has been built up over the years. The Japanese government is polluting its own sea even though most Japanese people consume seafood. Not only fishermen, but other Japanese civilians also rejected this nuclear waste disposal. Japanese residents in Fukushima also protested, where one of them, Tatsuko Okawara, said, “The mountains and rivers will never return to their former glory, and the radiation will not disappear easily. The country’s priority is to make money” through its puppet show. In addition, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper conducted a survey on the nuclear waste disposal policy in which 53% of Japanese citizens were in favor and 41% were against. In this case, the opposition of Japanese citizens was quite large, even though more were in favor.
Although Japan believes that the disposal of nuclear waste water will not have a major impact on human life, many parties believe that the risk of damage to marine ecosystems is high because nuclear-contaminated waste water becomes toxic at a certain level, including global fish migration, human health and human livelihoods. Opponents of Japan expressed dissatisfaction with the research conducted by Japan and the IAEA. They agree that more research is needed on the issue.
However, it seems that the protests and opposition from civilians and neighboring countries are just a passing wind for the Japanese government, as the wastewater discharge was carried out on August 24, 2023. Given that the ocean is a single entity, which means that the oceans around the world are interconnected, it is possible that the effects caused by Japan will worry other countries.