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Amid criticisms, Japan finalizing plans to release toxic waste into Pacific Ocean


By Julian Ryall


Tokyo-- Japan is putting the finishing touches to plans to release water contaminated with radioactivity from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, despite growing criticism from nearby nations, deepening opposition from local residents and even allegations that Tokyo provided the International Atomic Energy Agency with a “donation” of around $1 million.

Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, announced on Monday that there have been no alterations to the plan to start releasing water that has been treated to remove most of the radioactive nuclides and then diluted to internationally accepted standards at some point this summer. He added that an exact date for the first release will be decided “after comprehensive consideration.”

On Tuesday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi held talks in Tokyo with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other senior Japanese officials before presenting the organization’s report examining questions surrounding the dumping of millions of tons of water from the plant into the Pacific Ocean.

The IAEA has long effectively endorsed the Japanese government’s proposals for releasing the water and it was widely accepted before Grossi’s meeting with Kishida that the report would support opening a pipeline that has been constructed from the crippled plant to a spot about 1km offshore.

Since the magnitude-9 earthquake in March 2011 that triggered a 14-meter tsunami that caused three of the six reactors at the Fukushima plant to suffer melt-downs, contaminated water has been building up at the site. Water has to be pumped onto the reactor vessels to keep them cool while groundwater is also seeping into subterranean levels of the reactor buildings.


The water was initially contaminated with as many as 63 radioactive nuclides - including strontium, ruthenium, strontium and iodine – but the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant operator, insist virtually all of those impurities have been reduced to below regulatory standards through filtration through the Advanced Liquid Processing System.

The only nuclide that cannot be removed by ALPS is tritium, which the experts say is relatively benign and poses virtually no danger to the environment or human health.

Environmental groups have disputed the government’s assertions, pointing out that permission has never been granted for an independent organization to test the water for its safety. They also insist that the IAEA cannot be considered to be independent as it is funded by nations that have nuclear power industries.

Suggestions that the IAEA and the Japanese government enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship have been heightened since late June when a South Korean online media outlet published a story claiming that Tokyo had made a “political donation” of around $1 million to the industry watchdog.

The report said the payment was made to settle a number of disagreements over the release of the water into the ocean between Tokyo, the IAEA and experts from an unnamed third country.

In an angry press release, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said the report was “groundless,” adding, “The Japanese government strongly opposes such irresponsible dissemination of false information.”

There is little doubt, however, that Japan’s neighbors are deeply concerned about the imminent release of water from the plant that could easily find its way to their shores.

The South Korean government has tried to play down fears among its population, saying that prevailing tidal conditions will not bring contamination towards the Korean Peninsula, although it has also stated that the ban on imports of seafood from prefectures in north-east Japan will remain in place.

Opposition parties have been more vocal on the issue, with the head of the Justice Party staging a hunger strike outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on June 26. Lee Jeong-mi accused the government of acting like “a parrot” of the Japanese and merely supporting Tokyo’s position.

“We could no longer watch our government go along with the lies of the Japanese government,” she told Yonhap News. “The lies from our parrot-like government are the real horror story.”

China has also criticized Japan’s plans, with Beijing’s representative on the IAEA saying “this irresponsible act” threatens to endanger the global marine environment and public health, the China Media Group reported.

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Li Song pointed out that a report by TEPCO in early June showed that radioactivity in fish caught off the plant were far in excess of levels considered safe for human consumption. Levels of Cesium-137 were measured at 180 times the maximum stipulated in Japanese food safety laws.

Li also claimed that despite Japan’s claims that the ALPS system had removed radionuclides from the water, 60 different varieties of radiation could still be detected and 70 percent of the treated water failed to meet government-set standards.

Japanese fishermen and local residents in north-east Japan have also been outspoken about the plan to release the water. The fishermen say it will focus attention on the region once more and make it impossible to sell their catch, while people living on the coast are fearful of the impact on their health.

Elsewhere in Japan, however, there is growing support for the measure, primarily because the government has insisted releasing the treated water is safe and that continuing to store vast amounts of water at the site is not feasible in the longer term.

“I think most people have reached the conclusion that this really is the best course of action in the circumstances,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“The IAEA has been closely involved in the process leading up to the decision and it has been done in a scientific manner,” he told The Pacific Island Times. “That means the IAEA has underwritten the appropriateness of this action and I think that gives people confidence that it is the right thing to do.”


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