Pacific Islands Forum insists on 'verifiable science' to back safe release of Fukushima wastewater
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Pacific Islands Forum stands pat on its demand for Japan to engage in international consultation and provide “verifiable scientific assessments” of the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s plan to release nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.
“As we are seeing, this transboundary issue is receiving a lot of attention worldwide. That there continue to be diverging views highlights the continued importance of dialogue and genuine engagement,” said Mark Brown, prime minister of the Cook Islands and chair of the Forum.
“For any nuclear event that poses a risk to our Blue Pacific, we will always ensure that there is thorough and in-depth consultation and discussion,” Brown added.
The Forum on July 11 received the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Japan’s plans to release 1 million tons of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea.
Despite concerns raised by fishing communities and other countries in the region, the UN’s nuclear watchdog has approved TEPCO's plan.
“Based on its comprehensive assessment, the IAEA has concluded that the approach and activities to the discharge of ALPS treated water taken by Japan are consistent with relevant international safety standards,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA director general, stated in a foreword of the report.
The report, which was earlier presented to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, was surrounded by an allegation that IAEA had been bribed by the Japanese government to obtain favorable findings. Japanese officials denied such an allegation.
Brown said he acknowledged Kishida’s reassurances and Japan’s sustained engagement with the IAEA “to ensure that the environmental impacts of the unfortunate 2011 nuclear accident will be handled with the highest levels of care.”
“On different occasions, our Pacific leaders have held bilateral meetings with Japan where we each have been able to express our concerns and our encouragement to Japan, for the protection of our shared ocean against any potential harm from the Fukushima incident,” the Forum chair said.
Brown said the IAEA’s “proactive engagement” with Japan and the rest of the international community “demonstrates a clear understanding that while nuclear safety remains the responsibility of each individual country, nuclear accidents can happen and can transcend national boundaries.”
“The Forum’s prior engagements with the IAEA have been related to the Pacific’s nuclear testing legacy, a legacy which continues to affect our people and our ocean, eight decades on,” Brown said. “More than ever, our region’s co-operation with the IAEA and the international community, including through membership of the IAEA, is needed.”
The Rarotonga Treaty was the very first nuclear-free zone treaty that seeks to prevent the dumping of radioactive waste and radioactive matter in the Pacific region.
"Through the Rarotonga Treaty, we highlighted how our zone encompasses ocean space and land territory of significant maritime and geostrategic significance," Brown said.
As such, we remain determined to ensure that the bounty and beauty of the ocean space, the land territory, and the airspace above them shall remain the heritage of our peoples and our descendants in perpetuity to be enjoyed by all," he added.
In line with the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, Brown said the Forum is "committed to addressing all nuclear threats to our small island developing states who occupy the Pacific Ocean as our home and livelihood.'
"In this respect, the precautionary principle is of utmost importance to us in the Pacific, and we continue to stand by our priorities of “international consultation, international law, and independent and verifiable scientific assessments," he added.