By Joey Tau and Talei Luscia Mangioni
Earlier this month, the Japanese government announced plans to discharge 1m tonnes of radioactive wastewater accruing since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 into the Pacific Ocean.
To Pacific peoples, who have carried the disproportionate human cost of nuclearism in our region, this is yet another act of catastrophic and irreversible trans-boundary harm that our region has not consented to.
While Japan’s plan is for the water to be diluted first and discharged over the course of about 30 years, and the Japanese government has tried its hardest to convince the wider public of the treated water’s safety through the use of green mascots and backing from American scientists, Pacific peoples are once again calling it for what it is: an unjust act.
“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, Vanuatu stateswoman and veteran activist of the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement, after Japan’s announcement. “We are people of the ocean, we must stand up and protect it.”
Many in the Pacific have lived experience of nuclear harm with the continuing irradiation of our environments, while survivors and their descendants continue to experience harrowing maladies such as lymphatic cancers, thyroid and reproductive health issues.
Since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki detonations in 1945, 315 nuclear tests have been undertaken across the Marshall Islands, Australia, Kiribati and Maohi Nui. All of which were, at the time, described by nuclear nations to be scientifically sound and safe.
Indeed, both Japan and Pacific states share the trauma of nuclear testing. However, the Japanese government has since enthusiastically embraced the nuclear power industry.
One would think that Japan’s proposal to dump nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean is something novel but there is a history of precedent. The shady practice was virtually a global norm in the past for the likes of nuclear nations like Japan, America and Europe. Things came to a head in 1979, when Japan’s clandestine proposal to dump nuclear waste in neighbouring Northern Marianas was exposed. Japan severely underestimated a united furore from political leaders, non-governmental groups and grassroots activists from the Northern Marianas, Micronesia and the Pacific.
On Hiroshima Day in Japan 1980 before the World Conference Against the Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, an activist from the northern Pacific country of Palau memorably asked the Japanese audience: “Are the Japanese going to change from nuclear victims to nuclear assailants?”; “Are you going to dump your own garbage in other people’s back yards?”; “Are you really going to throw dangerous nuclear wastes in the Pacific which will harm not only us but our children and the following generations?”. These questions rocked the conscience of those from Japanese civil society and soon bonds of solidarity were formed.
But these questions are still relevant today, as Japan prepares once again to dump nuclear waste material into the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific peoples at all levels are protesting the move. Dame Meg Taylor made a statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, the key regional body, calling for Japan to hold off discharging the water until consultations and an independent review took place.
And we, as youth activists from the region, are concerned about the potential harm this will have on the health of our ocean, which is the economic, spiritual and cultural heart of Pacific countries.
The Japanese government intends to start dumping the nuclear wastewater in two years from now. We ask them to reflect on our joint nuclear legacy and listen to their Pacific neighbours. We are saying loudly and clearly: our ocean is not your dumping ground.
Joey Tau is a campaigner with the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG). He is a Pacific media and communications specialist.
Talei Luscia Mangioni is a Youngsolwara activist and a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.