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How will international community respond to release of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean from Fukushima

An exclusive interview with Liu Guangyuan, Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

On June 12, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) initiated trial tests for nuclear-contaminated water release equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and intends to release the contaminated wastewater into the environemtn during the upcoming summer season. The Japanese government has gone its own way despite strong opposition and questioning from neighboring countries, such as China, Korea, Japanese fishing groups and officials.

As Hong Kong Special Administrative region is the largest export destination for Japanese agricultural, forestry and fishery product, Japan’s strong push for releasing nuclear-contaminated water to the ocean sparked strong reactions in Hong Kong. The HKSAR government has repeatedly criticized its selfish move and emphasized that import restrictions on Japanese goods might be expanded if necessary. Various citizen groups protested in front of the Consulate – General of Japan in Hong Kong, condemning its actions that caused harm for itself and others. A recent poll showed that nearly 2/3 of Hong Kong residents will reduce the food purchases from Japan and half of Hong Kong residents would reduce the travel to Japan if Japan released its nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.

The treatment of nuclear contaminated water from Fukushima is closely linked to the global marine environment and the public health. - Will the ‘treated water’ claimed by the Japanese government be suitable for release? What impact will the release of the contaminated water from nuclear facilities into the ocean have on the world? And how will the international community respond to this issue? Recently, the East Meets West Program of the China News Service conducted an exclusive interview with Liu Guangyuan, Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to provide further insight into this matter:

China News Service Reporter: You recently published a signed article on the South China Morning Post, offering a comprehensive and detailed explanation on the danger posed by Japan’s release of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean and condemning the reckless and selfish actions from Japan. What hazards are associated with the wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant? Does the so-called “treated water” meet the standards for release?

Liu Guangyuan: The nuclear-contaminated water was contacted with the melted reactor core which contained more than 60 types of radioactive nuclide in the nuclear accident. There are still no effective technologies available for treating these nuclides, some long-lived nuclides may spread through ocean currents and accumulate in the environment, posing immeasurable risks to marine ecosystems and human health. According to the report, sea fish captured in the harbor near the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant contain cesium, a radioactive element, at levels 180 times higher than the legal standards set in Japan. This is incredibly alarming.

On May 16, 2023, Japanese gathered in front of the TEPCO headquarter to voice their opposition to the plan on releasing nuclear-contaminated water to the ocean pushed by Japanese government and TEPCO.

In terms of the reliability of the purifying system, the Japanese claimed unilaterally that its ‘multi-nuclide treatment system ‘meet the standard’ and the ‘treated water’ was qualified for the release. However, the effectiveness and maturity of nuclear-contaminated water treatment system have never been evaluated or certified by the third parties, and there have been frequent issues such as water leaks and damaged filters. Data reported by Japanese authorities themselves indicates that 70% of treated nuclear-contaminated water still exceeds the limit for radioactive nuclear concentration, revealing their own shortcomings and contradicting claims. In addition, the Japanese government still fails to offer a comprehensive environment monitoring plan for the release of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. With limited monitoring scope, few locations and low frequencies, it is hard to detect abnormalities such as excessive release. The former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama repeatedly against discharging the water into the ocean until the treatment technology is perfected. If the so-called “treated water” is truly compliant and can be safely released, why does Japan not do it domestically.

China News Service Reporter: Are there other ways of treating nuclear-contaminated water from Fukushima apart from releasing to the ocean?

Liu Guangyuan: Japanese experts have proposed many nuclear contaminated water treatment plans including stratum injection, steam release, hydrogen release, ocean release and geological disposal. Releasing to the ocean is not the best option. Experts from the third party has already said that release to the ocean was the most outdated and unethical way. However, the Japanese government still uses the lack of land as an excuse and recklessly releases nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. Japan’s extremely selfish and irresponsible endangers the safety and health of human, but also harm its credibility among international community.

China News Service Reporter: What are the impacts of releasing nuclear-contaminated water to the ocean on the global environment and the human health?

Liu Guangyuan: Currently, there is approximately 1.3 million tons of water contaminated by nuclear waste from the Fukushima nuclear accident. Ongoing production of around 100 tons per day indicates that this release into the ocean may continue for up to 30 years. Research shows that it would take only 57 days for this release to spread radioactive substances to most regions of the Pacific Ocean, and 10 years for the entire global ocean to be affected. It is of utmost importance not to underestimate the danger of this release of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. However, the Japanese government has yet to provide sufficient scientific evidence regarding the impact of ocean dumping on the ecological environment, food safety, and public health. An expert from Hong Kong warns that this could result in the transportation of heavy metals and radioactive substances along the food chain, potentially causing genetic mutations and cellular abnormalities that can lead to detrimental health effects including leukemia if consumed by humans. This should not be overlooked and taken lightly.

China News Service Reporter: What requirements do international laws impose on Japan, and how does Japan respond to the concerns of relevant stakeholders and the international community?

Liu Guangyuan: Japan’s push to release nuclear-contaminated water to the ocean is a clear breach of law and obligations. Under international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Japan has an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. They shall take all necessary measures to ensure that their activities in their jurisdiction or control do not cause pollution to other countries and their environment. Japan also has an obligation to consult, evaluate and monitor environmental impacts. Regrettably, despite repeated expressions of serious concern by Japan’s neighboring countries such as China, South Korea, Russia, as well as Pacific island nations and other relevant stakeholders, Japan has never provided scientific and credible explanations to the parties concerned. They have been evasive about key data, thus violating their international legal obligations of "international cooperation".

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1972 London Convention, Japan should fulfil its international obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment and treat nuclear-contaminated water responsibly. However, Japan completely disregards the transboundary harm caused by its release of nuclear-contaminated water and insists on making the decision to dump radioactive waste into the ocean, violating the international legal principle of "not causing harm to the environment of other countries"

Releasing over 1.3 million tons of nuclear-contaminated water containing more than 60 different radioactive nuclides into the ocean presents significant risks and uncertainties. Japan should take all necessary measures to prevent and minimize environmental damage as much as possible. However, by choosing to forcibly discharge the water into the sea, which is the least responsible way. Japan is contravening the international legal principle of the "precautionary approach,"

The Japanese government has already approved the plan on releasing to the ocean on July 22, 2022 and claimed that it will not delay this process. This indicated that they have never sincerely engaged in full and constructive negotiations with the relevant stakeholders, and failed to truly value the role of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. In fact, the authorization granted by the working group of the international organization is quite limited. It did not assess other safer and more reliable disposal options other than ocean discharge, nor did it assess the long-term effects of ocean discharge on the marine environment and human health. Furthermore, the role of IAEA is limited to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy, establishing safety standards, and does not include approving or reviewing pollution-discharge activities. The assessment by the technical working group of the agency does not exempt Japan from its international legal obligations, such as consultation with relevant countries, environmental impact assessments, and the protection of the marine environment. It is by no means a total green light for Japan to indiscriminately discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.

China News Service Reporter: If the Japanese government insists on discharging nuclear-contaminated water to the sea, what will be the response of the international community?

Liu Guangyuan: Ocean is the treasury for all humans. It is not Japan’s own ‘sewage system’. The discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean by Japan is a matter of global development and security. The international community should show solidarity and firmly stand on the side of justice. We are willing to join hands with the international community to urge Japan to faithfully fulfill its international obligations, seriously address the concerns of all parties, halt the forced implementation of the ocean release plan, and effective dispose of the nuclear-contaminated water in a scientific, safe, and transparent manner under strict international supervision. We must avoid transferring the risks of nuclear pollution to all of humanity and prevent the continuation of the pain and suffering caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident to future generations.

On June 5, 2023, Zhang Kejian, director of the China Atomic Energy Authority and the Chinese representative of IAEA attended the IAEA June board meeting in Vienna. He delivered a speech on criticizing Japan’s plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima into the ocean. In response to Japan’s arguments, Li Song, the Chinese permanent representative to the IAEA, exercised the right of reply and strongly refuted their claims. Here is the image of the meeting Photo credit: The Pemanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations in Vienna.


China NewsKailun Sui

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