By Jonathan Perez
Ten years later, the specter of the infamous Fukushima disaster continues to haunt Japan and the rest of its neighbors, for that matter.
Pacific island nations and neighboring countries howl in protest over Japan’s April announcement of its plans to dump 1.2 million tons of nuclear wastewater into the sea. This plan, according to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, was an “unavoidable and realistic option” that would help the recovery of the communities in Fukushima.
The wastewater, which Japanese officials claim would be diluted first to reach safety levels, is from the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was severely damaged and became inoperable after a 9.0 magnitude quake jolted the region more than a decade ago. The earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami that further devastated the coastal area of northeastern Honshu.
The fisherfolk of Fukushima, neighboring countries like China, South Korea, and Taiwan, and the leaders of island nations in the Pacific have opposed the decision, warning of its impact on the region’s fishing industry that was crippled after the series of disasters that took place on March 11, 2011.
Tokyo Electric Power, which operated the plant before the disaster, and Japanese officials said there is no way to remove the radioactive material tritium from the water and is not harmful when released in small amounts. They also said that other radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release that would not cause any harm.
The Japanese government is looking to begin releasing the diluted nuclear wastewater in the next two years and would take a decade to be completed. Their decision is based on policies that they had come up with, making sure that water safety levels are met with Suga adding that his government would take extra measures that would “prevent reputational damage.”
The plan to release nuclear wastewater to the Pacific Ocean may also cause a ripple effect to the fishing industries in the region where nations that export seafood and other marine products could lose millions of dollars in revenues if demand would drop because of fears of contamination.
The Pacific region and its peoples became the unwitting victims, who carried the burden of the nuclear age. Atolls in the Marshall Islands, an island country composed of more than one thousand islands and islets, became the nuclear playground of the United States from 1946 to 1958 where more than 20 nuclear weapons were tested including a weaponized hydrogen bomb that was more than 1,000 powerful than the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
Vanuatu politician and activist Motarilavoa Hilda Lini, as reported by the Guardian, reminded Japan that it too had experienced the damaging effects of the nuclear age. She challenged Japan and the other nuclear states that “if it is safe, dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris, and store it in Washington.”
“Keep our pacific nuclear-free. We are people of the ocean, we must stand up and protect it,” added the activist of the non-governmental organization Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement.
On Guam, Sen. Telena Nelson said Japan’s plan threatens the islanders’ way of life. “The dumping of radioactive waste would only impede our efforts to utilize marine life resources that benefit our environment, our economy, and our culture,” she said.
Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo is not convinced by Japan's assurance that the treatment of contaminated water prior to dumping would reduce radiation presence to levels set for drinking water.
Panuelo said this does not guarantee that that planned wastewater discharge would not pose any harm to the environment and the island nations' livelihood.
“I strongly believe it would be highly fruitful, and demonstrative of our close friendship and cooperation, for the government of Japan to engage in a formal and multilateral dialogue with countries whose livelihoods depend greatly on the health of the Pacific Ocean," Panuelo said in a letter to Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Experts, scientists and environmental groups are divided over the impact of water discharge. Both sides are armed with contrasting opinions and studies. But only the future generation will find the truth.