Hajime Matsukubo, general-secretary of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, says an ocean dump doesn’t make sense

7715976536687178Hajime Matsukubo, general secretary of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC)


What’s the most practical and safest way to handle the radioactive water being stored at Fukushima? According to Hajime Matsukubo, general-secretary of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), the contaminated water should be left in the aboveground tanks where it’s currently being stored. In a recent email interview with the Hankyoreh, Matsukubo said it doesn’t make sense to release the water into the ocean just because the tanks are running low on space.

The CNIC is a Japanese NGO that was set up in 1975 under nuclear physicist Jinzaburo Takagi, a leading figure in the campaign against nuclear power in Japan. Matsukubo is an active researcher, lecturer, and publisher of materials related to the anti-nuclear movement. The interview is presented below.

Hankyoreh (Hani): When do you think the final decision will be made about dumping the contaminated water at Fukushima into the ocean?

Hajime Matsukubo: TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company] says it will dilute the contaminated water before dumping it into the ocean, which means that a dilution facility would have to be built. Given the time required to get a building permit, I think the final decision will be made this summer or fall.

Japan wants an ocean dump because it’s the cheapest option

Hani: Why do you think the Japanese government is pushing so hard to dump the water into the ocean?

Matsukubo: Not only Japan but all countries that operate nuclear reactors end up with tritium as a byproduct, which they then release into the ocean or the atmosphere. I see this decision as an extension of that. Another factor is that releasing the water into the ocean is the cheapest option.

Hani: There seems to be considerable opposition to the plan in Japan as well.

Matsukubo: Many citizens are opposed to it. Pushback has been particularly strong from fishermen, who are likely to be harmed by the rumors [about the danger of the radioactive matter being released, which could cause people not to visit or eat food from Fukushima]. Lawmakers at city councils in Fukushima Prefecture have adopted a series of resolutions voicing concerns about releasing the contaminated water.

Hani: Do you think that negative public opinion in Japan is capable of changing government policy?

Matsukubo: Since the fishermen are direct stakeholders, I think their opposition will have a big impact. TEPCO has promised not to release the water without the consent of local communities in Fukushima. I think the key is opposing voices in Japan and increasing pressure from overseas.

Hani: Do South Korea or environmental groups in other countries have any way to sanction Japan for releasing contaminated water into the ocean?

Matsukubo: They could consider filing a lawsuit based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. But a large amount of tritium is already being released from Korea’s nuclear plants, especially the Wolseong plant. It would be rather difficult to prove that contaminated water released from Fukushima Daiichi [No. 1] is having an impact.

There’s plenty of land that could be used for additional storage

Hani: What’s the most practical and safest way to deal with the contaminated water?

Matsukubo: The contaminated water at Fukushima should be left in the aboveground tanks where it’s currently being stored. [The government] says there’s no more room at Fukushima Daiichi, but there is. There’s a huge amount of land that could be used to store the radioactive wastewater. While the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry says that land can’t be appropriated for other uses, the government [could and] should negotiate with the landowners. It’s absurd to dump radioactive water into the ocean because there’s not enough storage space in the tanks. Japanese NGOs are suggesting that the government continue storing the water in the aboveground tanks and seal them off with concrete. They’re warning the government that releasing the water into the ocean would create international problems.

S. Korea, Japan both need to reassess their reprocessing plans

Hani: Do you have a message for South Korea’s civic society?

Matsukubo: The Japanese government is pursuing a policy of creating a nuclear fuel cycle that would recycle plutonium and uranium from the spent nuclear fuel produced by reactors. This policy requires reprocessing plants that are currently under construction at Rokkasho, in Aomori Prefecture, which are supposed to begin operations in 2021. These plants will release a large amount of radioactive matter into the ocean and the atmosphere. In terms of tritium alone, the amount released will be 10 times worse than the contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi. That’s a very serious problem, just as releasing the contaminated water would be.

In South Korea, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute is taking the lead in R&D projects related to reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The problems with reprocessing plants don’t end here. Plutonium can be used as a raw material for making nuclear weapons. I think that South Korea and Japanese citizens need to join forces to shut down both countries’ reprocessing plans.

By Kim So-youn, staff reporter