16:45 GMT16 May 2021
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    The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was the site of one of the worst meltdowns in history after a tsunami damaged the facility in 2011, forcing the evacuation for more than 80,000 residents who lived in the nearby area. In the wake of the disaster, officials have debated how to properly dispose of the plant’s contaminated water.

    Greenpeace has petitioned over 180,000 people to oppose a bid by the Japanese government and plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to dump loads of radioactive water from the plant into the Pacific Ocean.

    The non-governmental organization has argued that releasing the contaminated cooling water into the ocean will have serious, long-term consequences for both the local communities and the environment and those abroad.

    Kazue Suzuki, the climate change and energy tsar at Greenpeace Japan, reiterated the group’s concerns via a Monday statement on the matter, noting that “the decision to release the contaminated water into the ocean will leave huge troubles for the future.”

    “The current regulation does not limit the total amount of radioactivity to be released and allows releasing too much only if it is diluted,” Suzuki noted. “Some of the radionuclides to be released have a lifespan of thousands or tens of thousands of years.” 

    A coast guard vessel (back R) patrols the waters off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture on October 9, 2015.
    © AFP 2021 / Toshifumi Kitamura
    A coast guard vessel (back R) patrols the waters off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture on October 9, 2015.

    The official underscores that the Japanese government must instead continue to store the radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi site until the proper technology is developed to remove radiation.

    The petition was carried out in response to reports that suggest the Japanese government will be making a decision on Tuesday on whether to release 1.23 million tons of leftover treated and diluted cooling water from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the Pacific Ocean. 

    Water at the nuclear facility has been treated through a filtration process known as the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) in an effort to remove contaminants and radioactivity. However, the treated water still leaves behind a contaminant called tritium.

    Tritium, or hydrogen-3 (T or H), is a radioactive isotope or variant of hydrogen which tends not to be harmful externally, but can be hazardous if ingested into the body, leading to the development of cancer.

    A study published in 2020 by the journal Nature says that tritium “requires large quantities to deliver significant radiation doses,” but the environmental data is limited for the Fukushima accident because of other contaminant priorities.

    According to NHK, the government plans to continue diluting the element “to acceptable levels far below national regulations” before release. The discharges are planned for late 2022 or early 2023, and are expected to continue until the mid-2050s, according to an October 2020 report by Greenpeace Germany.

    Recently, in a letter to Yamazaki Kazuyuki, the permanent representative to the Mission of Japan at the United Nations, four United Nations Human Rights special rapporteurs referred to Fukushima nuclear disaster as a human rights issue, stressing that dumping the contaminants will prompt “serious challenges” for the environment and people’s livelihood. 

    “The disposal of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the ocean or air will jeopardize a multitude of human rights and the livelihoods of a large number of communities,” the letter reads, highlighting the implication the action will have on “indigenous communities who are heavily dependent on fishing for income and subsistence.”

    The special rapporteurs also called on the government of Japan to “give proper space and opportunity for consultations on the disposal of nuclear waste,” while delaying any decision on the disposal until “after the COVID-19 crisis has passed and proper international consultation can be held.”

    Regional Response to Fukushima Water Release

    China and South Korea on Monday have also voiced their concern over the plan, saying that discharging contaminated water into the sea would have a negative impact on its neighbors. The regional neighbors also called on Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government to take into consideration the “public interest of international society, as well as the health and safety of Chinese citizens.”

    Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a news conference on Friday that the meltdown has already had a profound impact on the marine environment, food safety and human health, adding that Japan needs to share information about the risks in an “accurate, open and transparent” way.

    A spokesperson for the South Korean Foreign Ministry has also said that any attempt by Japan to release contaminated water into the sea would be met by South Korea’s increased cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to “deal with the issue.” 

    The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which in 2011 experienced the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, has no choice but to discharge a massive amount of radioactive waste into the sea
    © Sputnik
    The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which in 2011 experienced the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, has no choice but to discharge a massive amount of radioactive waste into the sea

    The IAEA is an international organization that works to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for military purposes, like nuclear weapons.

    However, according to reports by several Japanese news outlets, the IAEA has backed the Japanese government’s plan to dispose of the water, saying it “meets global standards of practice in the nuclear industry.” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that it is a common way to release water at nuclear power plants despite emergency situations, during a visit to Fukushima in February.

    Japan Fisheries Cooperatives Chairman Hiroshi Kishi has rejected the plan to dispose of the waste into the Pacific Ocean, demanding the government explain how to address the damage to the fishing industry in which the Japanese government has said it will “do its utmost to support local fisheries and provide compensation for any damages,” according to a Yahoo News report

    At present, 15 countries are still restricting Japanese food from districts affected by the Fukushima disaster.

    In January, the Associated Press reported that the Japanese government has said it cannot put off a decision any longer, because water storage capacity at the plant is beginning to run out and water release into the sea is the best option.

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    Greenpeace, Petition, wastewater, Japan, Fukushima nuclear disaster, Fukushima Daiichi
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