By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-13 09:21
The fruit of Tokyo's years of trying to build closer ties with its Pacific neighbors appears to be in jeopardy, as Japan prepares to discharge radioactive wastewater from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean.
"We need to remind Japan and other nuclear states of our Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement slogan: If it is safe, dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris, and store it in Washington, but keep our Pacific nuclear-free," said Motarilavoa Hilda Lini, a chief of the Turaga nation of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu.
Many of the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, the region's main diplomatic body, have voiced similar sentiments. At a news conference two weeks ago, Fiji's Acting Prime Minister Manoa Kamikamica said, "A question that has been asked is if the Advanced Liquid Processing System-treated water is so safe, why not reuse it in Japan for alternative purposes, in manufacturing and agriculture for instance?"
The disappointment and frustration the Pacific countries are airing came only a few years after Japan announced the so-called Pacific Bond policy, an initiative to take stronger action on climate change and to improve ties with Pacific countries.
To allay the concerns over its plans for releasing nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, Japanese authorities have sought to reassure them that what they will do will be safe and that there is no alternative. Nearly all radioactive particles will be eliminated before the water is discharged into the ocean, they say.
However, there is widespread skepticism over such claims, with many critics saying Japan has long tried to make out that the consequences of the 2011 nuclear disaster would be relatively short-lived.
Several studies and reports by various countries and environmental groups have said it has been proven that there is no technical, engineering or legal barrier to securing storage space for ALPS-treated contaminated water. It is only a matter of political will, they say, and the ocean discharge decision is based purely on economic expediency, given that it is the cheapest option.
Suh Kune-yull, a professor emeritus of nuclear energy system engineering at Seoul National University, has said the 1.35 million metric tons of radioactive water at Fukushima cannot be fully purified, and that an artificial lake of 200,000 square meters could meet Japan's need to dump the water over the next 50 years, at a cost of just $25 million.
Despite widespread opposition at home and abroad, Japanese policymakers have shown little willingness to reconsider their ocean discharge plans. The country's Foreign Ministry has signaled that the discharge will go ahead because "it is very likely" that the International Atomic Energy Agency will back such moves.
Liu Jing, deputy director of the China Atomic Energy Authority, strongly criticized the idea, saying Japan has arbitrarily approved its own plan and expedited the construction of discharge facilities, ignoring the IAEA's authoritative advice and opposition from both home and abroad.
Japan's planned move is "an extremely irresponsible act that has drawn grave concerns from the international community and relevant countries", he said.