The ocean is a cradle of life, a bond connecting nations around the world. In recent years, maritime security issues are emerging one after another, the marine ecosystem is worsening, and global ocean governance is confronted with myriads of challenges.
None of them can be resolved by any individual country. It takes solidarity and cooperation of the entire international community to address. Therefore, the imminent danger of the sea being contaminated by nuclear elements deserves close attention of the world.
Twelve years ago, an earthquake triggered a nuclear accident rated the highest level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. China and the rest of the world showed deep sympathy and provided prompt humanitarian assistance to the Japanese government and people.
In April 2021, however, without either fully exploring all possible and safer options or fully consulting with neighbouring countries, the Japanese government unilaterally decided to discharge the nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
According to reports, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 7 issued the certificate of discharging and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that there is no change in the plan of starting to discharge the water into the ocean this summer.
This is undoubtedly a chilling move that would inflict risk on the entire humanity. There is no precedent for discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.
This discharge is different from the normal disposal of water from nuclear power stations because it contains more than 60 radionuclides, and no technologies have been publicly deemed effective for treating many of them. Some long-lived radionuclides could spread with ocean currents and form a bioconcentration effect.
The discharge of water will last as long as 30 years or even longer, which will cause unpredictable hazards to the global marine environment and human health. Though Japan decided to dilute the radioactive substances in the nuclear-contaminated water, nothing has been done to control the total amount of radionuclides in it.
A German marine scientific research institute pointed out that within 57 days from the date of discharge, radioactive materials will spread to most of the Pacific Ocean, 3 years later to the coast of the US and Canada, and 10 years later to the global ocean.
The decision of the Japanese government threatens to victimize the globe. Japan claims that the treated nuclear-contaminated water is safe and harmless, yet it refuses to discharge it into Japan’s inland rivers or use it for agricultural and industrial purposes as suggested by the Pacific island countries.
This has essentially refuted Japan’s own claim about the safety of the nuclear-contaminated water. In fact, Data released by Japan shows that close to 70% of the treated water is not up to standard. As a report from Japan shows, fish caught in the failed nuclear plant’s harbour contain levels of radioactive caesium more than 180 times that of Japan’s legal standard.
What consequences will it bring to the ecological environment, food safety and public health in Pacific rim countries if millions of tonnes of nuclear-contaminated water are dumped into the ocean? Japan has not fully provided scientific evidence and data in this regard.
However, Japan has created the pseudo-scientific term “treated water” in an attempt to cover up the unidentified risks of the plan. It spends more money on public-relationship than managing the water.
Discharging nuclear-contaminated water is also in violation of the responsibilities enshrined by the international law. The dumping plan is not the only way to deal with the nuclear-contaminated water, nor is it the safest and most optimal means of disposal, but the cheapest, easiest one with minimum risk of polluting Japan itself. It is extremely selfish and irresponsible to let the whole world bear the cost and save its own money.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Japan has the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment and should take all necessary measures to ensure that its jurisdiction or control activities will not cause other countries and their environment to be polluted.
The 1972 London Dumping Convention prohibits the dumping of radioactive waste into the sea through artificial structures at sea. The Japanese side should fulfil its obligations of full consultation, assessment and monitoring of environmental impacts, and take preventive measures to minimize risks.
I would like to give a special mention to the report recently published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the disposal of nuclear-contaminated water of Japan. This report should not be the “shield” or “greenlight” for Japan’s discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.
Due to its limited mandate, the IAEA failed to review the justification and legitimacy of Japan’s ocean discharge plan, assess the long-term effectiveness of Japan’s purification facility and corroborate the authenticity and accuracy of Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water data. Therefore, the conclusion is largely limited and incomplete.
Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that the IAEA conducted the review at the request of the Japanese government and the report is neither a recommendation nor an endorsement of Japan’s ocean discharge policy.
The Pacific Ocean is not the dustbin and sewer of Japan. According to a latest survey in Japan, 40% of Japanese oppose ocean discharge. Over 80% of South Koreans disapprove of Japan’s discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. Experts and people in the Pacific Island countries, South-East Asian countries, South Africa, Peru and other countries protested and voiced their opposition.
The Chinese people have strong concerns over Japan’s discharge plan. Unfortunately, despite strong domestic and international opposition, the Japanese government showed no sign of retreat from its plan. China once again urge the Japanese side to stop its ocean discharge plan, face up to international concerns, and earnestly dispose of the nuclear-contaminated water in a science-based, safe and transparent manner.
The ocean is the common homeland for all countries, especially for the Small Island Developing States like Grenada, as they earnestly pursue the development of blue economy. Once the water is released into the ocean, there is no way to take it back.
We need to make sure that everything we do is in the interest of the long-term development and progress of humanity. We need to develop and utilize marine resources in an orderly manner, join hands in tackling global challenges such as climate change and rising sea levels, and deal with conducts that damage the marine environment such as the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water, so as to ensure that our blue planet retains its primary colour forever, and that our future generations continue to enjoy clean ocean and blue skies.
Wei Hongtian is the resident Chinese Ambassador to Grenada