Since the Japanese government announced its highly controversial plan to release massive amounts of radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in April last year, it has met with opposition and condemnation, not only from Japan’s neighbors, China and the Republic of Korea, but also from Japanese society, residents in Fukushima and the country’s fishery industry in particular.
Although the Japanese government says that apart from tritium, which cannot be removed from the water, all other radionuclides will have been reduced to safe amounts after treatment, it is not known what the environmental consequences will be after it is discharged into the sea.
Marine experts have raised concerns over traces of ruthenium, cobalt, strontium and plutonium isotopes in the wastewater.
The Pacific Ocean does not belong to Japan. It is an ocean shared by dozens of countries and regions. By discharging the water into the ocean, the Japanese government shows little regard for the health and well-being of its own people and those in neighboring countries. As such, the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the world’s nuclear watchdog, should put public health first and do its utmost to see to it that Japan fully complies with all the relevant nuclear safety standards.
The IAEA set up a task force last year to review the safety of Japan’s discharge plan, comprising a group of IAEA specialists and external experts from 11 countries. The task force conducted a field trip to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station last week, and reviewed the updated technical plans for the water discharge by Tokyo Electric Power Company and the equipment and facilities to be used for the discharge. The IAEA said a report of the mission will be made available within three months, and a comprehensive assessment on the safety of the discharge will be issued prior to the planned release in 2023.
Both China and the ROK have urged the agency to strictly adhere to all safety standards in its assessment of the plan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Monday that China hopes the task force will ensure the “absolute safety” of the treatment.
And the Foreign Ministry of the ROK also struck the same tune on Tuesday, stressing that the discharge of the contaminated water should meet objective scientific standards.
Needless to say, Japan should coordinate closely and transparently with the task force so as to ensure the IAEA clearly grasps the whole picture.
China’s support of the IAEA task force’s work should not be interpreted as an approval of Japan’s decision to discharge the contaminated water. It needs to be pointed out that the task force has not evaluated the alternatives to ocean discharge, leaving the IAEA unable to conduct a comprehensive evaluation and find the best way to dispose of nuclear-contaminated water. China still maintains that instead of pushing forward with its discharge plan, Japan should find a safer way to treat the contaminated water.