Fukushima Water Dumping Plan Causes International Uproar

Japan’s plan to allow TEPCO to dump contaminated water into the Pacific has caused international uproar. Other governments, environmental groups, fishing and agriculture groups all have been declaring their opposition to this move.

Part of the problem with this new plan may be that Japan’s central government didn’t consult any of the other Pacific countries before approving the water dumping. The lack of information and the absence of any consultation has caused another rift in the region.

These international disputes may have some venue in the courts where temporary restraining orders could be imposed even if a full ban on the activities is not given. Meanwhile various governments have made formal statements of opposition to the plan.

A forum representing various Pacific island governments claims TEPCO’s water dump plan may violate an existing international treaty barring nuclear waste in the Pacific region.

The Philippines has formally complained about the plan and insisted Japan should accept financial liability.

China has balked on the idea and is considering taking further action to prevent the plan.

Russia and Taiwan have both come out in opposition to the plan. Taiwan has announced they will increase fish testing of any fish hauled near Japan. Russia called on Japan to be more transparent, citing available information as insufficient.

South Korea summoned the Japanese ambassador soon after the plan was announced. The country announced they are considering bringing this issue to an international court.

Multiple South Korean grocery store chains have vowed to continue to boycott Japanese seafood products due to the announcement of the water dumping plan. Consumer opposition to Japanese seafood products remains high after the new announcement by Japan. A group of South Korean student activists shaved their heads in protest in front of the Japanese embassy. Experts from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute have protested the dumping plan and urged that more information should be made available.

South Korea says it will participate in any IAEA oversight of the water dumping plan at Fukushima Daiichi.

The mayor of the town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture has asked TEPCO to agree to pay for any reputational damage to local products caused by the water dumping plan. Fisherman in Fukushima are angry over the water dumping plan that comes just as full scale fishing was set to reopen.

Citing the planned water releases from Fukushima Daiichi, Alaska will increase their gamma radiation fish testing program.

Soon after Japan announced the water dumping plan, the government rolled out a cute tritium mascot. The mascot was quickly removed after public backlash.

Even before TEPCO’s planned water dump, there have been ongoing problems with contaminated fish found off Fukushima’s coast. The central government banned the sale of rockfish from Fukushima after multiple samples were found to be over the government’s radiation limit in fish.

This all also raises the question if TEPCO should be trusted in any of this due to their track record. Japan’s nuclear regulator recently banned the company from operating a nuclear plant or applying for restart permission for a year over safety failures and a cover up at their Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant. This follows TEPCO’s historical pattern of dishonesty and safety lapses, raising concerns about their ability to conduct the water dump in a safe and transparent manner. Public confidence in TEPCO remains low after years of dishonesty about various problems at Fukushima Daiichi and refusals to honor compensation agreements.

Other options exist to deal with the contaminated water on site, dumping it into the ocean is the cheapest and easiest. The IAEA has been cheerleading dumping it into the sea for years.

A Japanese cabinet minister refused to answer the question, if this water to be dumped is safe enough to drink. The question was posed by Taro Aso, another cabinet minister. This was after Aso was challenged by China to drink the contaminated water to prove it is safe.

Why is this dumping plan such a hot topic? The political diplomacy involved seems to be non existent. Japan didn’t consult with any neighboring countries before announcing the decision. This may violate various international treaties on dumping controlled substances into the Pacific or specific treaties on nuclear waste related to the Pacific. There are economic concerns that the dumping could hurt seafood sales or cause products to be banned. Contamination of sea products is a relevant concern. The various radioactive contaminants in the water beyond tritium could concentrate in various types of sea products, causing them to be contaminated. This would likely be more of a localize phenomenon. Current monitoring doesn’t actively look for some of the involved types of radioactive contamination or only looks for them sporadically.

This also ties into varying levels of acceptable risk. One person’s acceptable risk may not be acceptable to another. Government intervention levels are frequently quite high and are intended to prevent more immediate consequences. Just as some people opt for organic foods to avoid agri-chemicals, the same motivations may cause people to find man made radioactive contamination in their foods to be unacceptable. All of the banana comparisons in the world will not convince people to accept unnecessary man made substances in their food. Considering certain man made radioactive contaminants like Strontium 90, don’t readily metabolize back out of the body the way the radioactive potassium in a banana does, those concerns may be well founded.

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