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Japan to delay Pacific nuclear wastewater discharge

From left, Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general Henry Puna, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.
Published date: 13-Feb-2023

The Pacific Islands Forum has welcomed Japan’s decision to delay the release of more than one million tonnes of nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

The Japanese government announced it was adopting a revised action plan on the discharge of treated, but still radioactive, wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant this year.

The Forum Secretariat confirmed Tokyo had assured them it would delay the release until experts had verified it was safe to do so.

A Forum delegation, led by incoming chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, travelled to Japan this week to convey the Pacific’s concerns.

Brown also requested a deferral of Japan’s plans to discharge the wastewater, scheduled for spring 2023.

When a magnitude 9.1 earthquake and tsunami hit off the coast of Japan in 2011, it caused a meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

Since then, water has been used to cool the damaged reactors. Now, tonnes of radionuclide-contaminated water – collected on site – continue to accumulate, from the rains and groundwater that have managed to seep through.

An estimated 30,000 anti-nuclear activists attended a rally in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, in 2012, to protest against the government’s plan to reopen several of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima plant, said last week that the storage tanks took up too much space and hindered plans to decommission the plant.

Japan is facing widespread opposition – from local fishermen, international environmentalists and other governments in the region including China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Much of the pressure has come from Pacific Island countries including lawmakers, former leaders, regional fisheries’ management groups and other organisations.

In a statement, the Forum welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s assurance that his government would not release the nuclear wastewater until it was “verifiably safe” to do so.

Kishida had also praised Japan’s relationship with the Pacific, saying it was built on trust and in the spirit of friendship.

Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua, who is in Japan, said nuclear contamination continued to be a “real and grave threat” to the Pacific.

She said any threat to the forum member states, their people and livelihood would be taken seriously and that PIF was legally bound to prevent this.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told journalists in Tokyo that the release target date could now be in the summer due to construction delays on a pipeline and the need to gain greater public and international support.

Gustavo Caruso, of the International Atomic Energy Agency, explains the IAEA’s scope and progress on the Fukushima power plant during a visit to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Fiji this week.

Forum secretary-general Henry Puna, who is also in Japan, wants more time to deal with questions and concerns surrounding the discharge.

“It’s just horrendous to think what it might mean. The people of the Pacific are people of the ocean. The ocean is very much central to our lives, to our culture, to our livelihoods. Anything that prejudices the health of the ocean is a matter of serious concern.”

Last month, a panel of independent global nuclear experts were appointed by PIF to help inform forum members in their consultations with the Japanese government and TEPCO.

The experts have stressed that more data is needed to determine the safety of the wastewater for disposal, Puna said.

“We think that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that the release is safe, environmentally, health wise, and also for our economy in the Pacific.

“Until more information is shared and evaluated, Japan please defer the discharge of the water,” Puna said.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its recent inspections of the Fukushima plant is also pending.

On Wednesday, an IAEA delegation led by Gustavo Caruso, Director and Coordinator of Nuclear Safety and Security, visited the Forum Secretariat and its member missions in Fiji to discuss key topics of interest including the scope and progress of the IAEA’s review, IAEA safety standards and IAEA development process.

A special session of Pacific Islands Forum leaders will be held this year to discuss Japan’s position.

This story was written by Christine Rovoi, originally published at Stuff NZ on 09 February 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.

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