Japan’s plan to discharge over a million tonnes of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific is hazardous and irresponsible, and could have serious repercussions on the environment, human health, the regional economy, and diplomatic relations.
The plan violates international laws on nuclear waste disposal, poses serious environmental and health concerns, compromises the reputation and livelihood of the fishing industry, undermines regional trust and collaboration, and disregards alternative options and public opinion.
Japan should re-evaluate its strategy, reassess its plan and engage in communication and collaboration with neighbouring countries and stakeholders on solutions to the nuclear wastewater issue.
According to Hong Kong’s Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan, the decision to discharge the wastewater without seeking approval or consent from other nations breaches both the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“[Japan] is violating its international legal obligations and endangering the marine environment and public health,” Tse added. “It is by no means a responsible state action.”
Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, accused Japan of acting recklessly and disregarding the health and safety of Chinese nationals as well as the global community’s interests. “China has expressed grave concern to the Japanese side through diplomatic channels,” Zhao said.
“Before implementing any unilateral action that may have an influence on other nations, Japan must comply with its international legal obligations and seek authorisation from relevant international bodies.”
Despite guarantees and assurances that the wastewater will be purified and diluted, it still contains radioactive elements like tritium, which can adversely affect both humans and animals by inducing cancer, genetic abnormalities, and birth defects. Due to the possibility of radioactive materials accumulating inside fish and other marine organisms, the wastewater will also have an impact on the marine ecosystem, biodiversity, and food chain.
“Nobody wants to dump (radioactive substances) into the ocean,” said David Krofcheck, a scientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “We need to be aware of the difference between tritium and carbon-14, on the one hand, and the radioactive fission products which tend to remain in the human body.”
The planned wastewater will also damage the reputation of the fishing industry – and the livelihoods of those involved in it – in Japan, China, and Hong Kong. As a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, the fishing industry in these areas has already suffered substantially, with many countries banning or restricting seafood imports from those places. According to government figures cited by CNN, catches by Fukushima’s coastal fishing industry plummeted from US$69 million in 2010 to US$17 million in 2018 and US$26 million in 2022.
The dumping of wastewater will only further erode consumer confidence and demand for seafood products. Japan should acknowledge the interests of its fishing industry, a significant source of income and employment for many in the country.
Kinzaburo Shiga, 77, a Japanese fisherman, told CNN the proposed dumping of treated wastewater into the sea made his “blood boil.” He added: “I know that the government has decided to go ahead with the policy of releasing treated wastewater into the sea, but for us fishers, it really feels like they made this decision without our full consent.”
Moreover, this initiative undermines regional collaboration and mutual confidence. Japan’s plan provoked condemnation from neighbouring nations, particularly China and South Korea, who have expressed significant concern. Such an initiative will also have an impact on relations between Japan and Hong Kong across sectors such as trade, tourism, culture, and education.
It will jeopardise regional governments’ efforts to address common concerns such as climate change, pandemic preparation, and regional security. Rather than taking unilateral action and stoking hostility with its neighbours, Japan must try to establish mutual understanding and cooperation.
The Japanese government’s decision has not taken into account either viable alternatives or public opinion. It argues that there is insufficient space in the Fukushima plant’s tanks to accommodate the wastewater, and discharging it into the ocean is the only feasible approach. But environmental organisations such as Greenpeace have recommended various solutions, including expanding the storage facilities, enhancing the filtration process, and solidifying the water by transforming it into concrete blocks. All these ideas have been ignored.
“The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima,” said Kazue Suzuki, Climate/Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan. “The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive waste.”
Japanese citizens, particularly those in Fukushima who have suffered the after-effects of the nuclear disaster for over 10 years, have not been consulted or given opportunities to express their opinions. The government’s actions demonstrate a lack of accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.
Japan must adopt alternatives that are more socially and environmentally palatable, consulting neighbouring countries as well as other stakeholders. The decision to discharge the nuclear wastewater into the ocean is unjust and extremely inconsiderate, and will have a detrimental effect on Japan itself as well as other nations. It must be discouraged.