A Pacific Islands Forum expert panellist has criticised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for “ignoring one of its own fundamental principles”, in its report on the upcoming dump of treated nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

The IAEA’s principle means it must prove the benefits outweigh the harm to society and individuals.

The IAEA has presented Japan with its final report before the release is set to start, saying the discharge proposal is consistent with relevant international safety standards.

However, it stopped short of endorsing the move, saying the release is a decision for the Japanese Government.

Dr Arjun Makhijani, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research’s President, has criticised the IAEA for ignoring its own principle of justification.

“Justification is a fundamental principle for the international standards of radiation protection. It considers that activities giving rise to radiation risks must yield an overall benefit,” the IAEA report said on page 18.

Makhijani, who has half a century of expertise, said it was “egregious” the IAEA has decided it’s not going to look at this principle because Japan has already done so.

“The IAEA has abandoned its responsibility to review the justification of actions, even though it is part of the fundamental safety principles,” he said.

“Principle number four is justification. It is part of the general safety requirements.”

He said the IAEA says it is not looking at justification, because Japan already made its decision to dump.

“In a way, it’s a little bit of sophistry for the IAEA to say it’s not a decider,” he said.

“It’s not, but if the IAEA said, ‘we don’t think this is a good idea’, there’s no way this plan could go forward.

“By saying, basically, that Japan had decided to dump and invited [the IAEA] to look afterwards at how it should be done; and so we will not look at justification, because it was already a done deal.

“They’re saying, if you want the imprimatur (official approval) of the IAEA, and if you want to look good for anything, you’ve already decided, whether it’s justified or not, just invite us after you’ve decided it.

“That’s a truly egregious way in which the IAEA is undermining its own guidelines.”
But he adds legally, the IAEA is right – it is Japan’s decision to make, and how Japan relates to the Pacific Region countries is also a matter for it and/or for the Pacific countries to take up.

“But there’s a bit of kind of disingenuousness – because Japan asked the IAEA to review this because Japan wanted the imprimatur of the IAEA that this is safe.

“And if the IAEA said, ‘we think there’s a better option that would avoid even whatever harm you think is going to happen; avoid the societal harm, avoid the economic harm. We don’t think you should do this now; postpone it and look at this other thing’.

“[If the IAEA said that] I do not believe that anybody would find a decision to go ahead next week or next month to be acceptable.”

Dr Makhijani said he has raised his concerns with the IAEA as part of the PIF expert panel.

He said he does not take criticising the IAEA lightly, as it does “important work”.

“The IAEA is refusing to acknowledge its responsibility, and basically abandoning the countries of the Pacific region to whatever mercies the government of Japan might offer them.”

IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi presented the report to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo last week.

The IAEA said the controlled, gradual release as planned by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) would have a “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment”.

He said the IAEA would continue to monitor the discharge, which is expected to continue for the next 30 or 40 years.

“My experts will come back to Fukushima repeatedly, and for as long as the process takes, to take samples at different locations and confirm the water remains safe,” Grossi said.

Grossi said the IAEA has established a permanent on-site office.

“We’ll provide live continuous monitoring throughout the treated water discharge process,” he said.

“Our task is just starting – we’re here for the long haul.”

He has also met with mayors, fishermen associations, and local groups in Fukushima.

“We’re here to listen, explain, and ensure safety – and we’ll stay here true to our commitment before, during, and after the treated water discharge.

“[The IAEA] will maintain its unwavering commitment to safe, peaceful nuclear energy in Japan as it does elsewhere”.

TEPCO has yet to confirm a start date.