Statement regarding the oceanic dumping of contaminated water
from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
August 27, 2020
Life started in the oceans, evolving over unimaginable timescales. Everything alive on Earth today can be traced back to its origins in the ocean, and we continue to enjoy the benefits of that same ocean. This will always be true, as long as there is life on Earth. Across the planet, people are waking up to the devastation caused by plastic pollution in our oceans, and are collaborating on new technologies in an attempt to restore the oceans. We are finally starting to reflect on the arrogant way we have treated the oceans that cover 70% of Earth’s surface as an expendable commodity, and are choosing instead to treat it with the respect it deserves.
The situation in Japan lies in stark contrast. The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 gave the lie to the legend that “nuclear power is safe”. Around the world, countries are shifting policy away from nuclear and toward renewable energy, while new nuclear construction projects are being called off. This is in part a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster demonstrating that we cannot live in harmony with atomic energy. On the other hand Japan, home to Fukushima Daiichi, refuses to give on up its pro-nuclear energy strategy and now proposes in its intermediate-to-long term roadmap to dump at least 1.34 million tons of contaminated water from the accident (including water retained inside buildings) into the sea over the course of 30 years.
Time and time again, we have been told that “tritiated water is released from nuclear power plants and other facilities all over the world, without any problems”. The truth is that experts are divided in their opinions. The contaminated water collecting at the Fukushima Daiichi site is distinct in that it is liquid radioactive waste that has been in contact with meltdown debris. In normal circumstances, such waste would be held under strict supervision to ensure not a single drop escaped. It is thus fundamentally different from the tritiated water that is released from operational nuclear plants. The actions of TEPCO and the Japanese government in their attempts to rush through an agreement on oceanic dumping have been disingenuous to say the least.
On August 11th 2015, the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations (JF Fukushima) described their decision to support TEPCO’s new strategy of discharging contaminated groundwater from sub drains as an “extremely painful decision”. The federation released a “List of wishes regarding the discharge of sub drain water from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant”, of which item no. 4 was “under no circumstances release water from within the buildings, even after treatment using Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) facilities or similar, without first gaining the understanding of the fishing community and the Japanese public, with such water being stored in strictly managed on-site tanks”. TEPCO responded as follows on August 25th, 2015.
The Japanese government (specifically, the tritiated water taskforce of the contaminated water handling committee) is currently undertaking research into various technical options and their efficacy with respect to the tritium-contaminated water that remains after subjecting contaminated water from inside the buildings to ALPS treatment. Testing of tritium separation technology is also underway.
The outcomes of these investigations will be properly relayed to the affected parties, in particular representatives of the fishing industry, and no disposal will be carried out without completing this process and gaining the understanding of the parties involved. ALPS-treated water is being held on the power plant site in tanks.
It is clear that when this response was released, it was assumed that the removal of radioactive substances other than tritium would be achievable. The response moreover states that various options and their efficacy are under consideration, and the outcomes thereof would be explained in detail. However, in late August 2018, immediately prior to an “explanation and hearing meeting regarding the handling of ALPS-treated water”, a media scoop revealed that in addition to tritium, the radioactive isotopes iodine-129, ruthenium-106, strontium-90 and others also remain at levels exceeding the official concentration limits. No explanation had been given regarding the fact that the separation technology had failed to obtain the anticipated results during testing. Were it not for this media report, members of the ALPS-treated water handling subcommittee (hereafter “ALPS subcommittee”), fisherman, and the general public would never have found out.
The ALPS subcommittee set up by the Japanese government suggested that “expansion of on-site contaminated water tanks may be possible”, but this was not investigated further by TEPCO. The Japanese government and TEPCO have also ignored opinions such as “it makes no logical sense to proceed with decommissioning at the expense of the local community” and “storage is necessary until such time as reputational damage is deemed to no longer pose a major risk”. It is reported that testing of secondary treatment methods will start, based on the assumption that oceanic dumping will be the ultimate disposal method, but the verdict is still some way down the line.
None of the prerequisites for discussions regarding the acceptability of oceanic or atmospheric release – that is to say testing, viable results, and reporting, have been met. In other words, the Japanese government and TEPCO have none of the evidence of the viability of oceanic dumping that would be needed before deciding to make such a proposal to the fishing community and other local residents as well as the general public. What the Japanese government and TEPCO refer to as “tritiated water” is not merely “tritiated water”, and it has not been demonstrated that it can even be considered “treated water”.
Despite this state of affairs, in February 2020 the ALPS subcommittee reported that “oceanic and atmospheric environmental discharge are the realistic options, with oceanic dumping being the more implementable”. The Japanese government has adopted the attitude that oceanic dumping is a fait accompli. In June 2020, the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations and JF Fukushima adopted a special resolution to “fiercely oppose oceanic dumping”. This forceful opposition reflects the anger and disappointment in the Japanese government’s abandonment of its previous promise that it would “not carry out any treatment without the agreement of the affected parties” when they consented to sub drain dumping five years earlier.
It is not only the fishing community that opposes oceanic dumping. During an opinion gathering session for affected parties starting on April 6th, representatives of forestry and agriculture as well as hotel operators and retailers, and also local community leaders, voiced their clear opposition to the dual proposals for the oceanic and atmospheric discharge of contaminated water and called for greater caution. Moreover, 21 out of the 59 local authorities in Fukushima prefecture, as well as Koganei city in Tokyo, also adopted written opinions opposing the move.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)’s opinion-gathering for the handling of ALPS-treated water has attracted around 4,000 opinions over the four month period from April. This number surely reflects the level of interest and the deep concerns held by much of the population regarding oceanic dumping. These opinions will now be analyzed, and should opinions opposed to or wary of oceanic dumping be in the majority, the onus will be on METI to reflect these voices in its policy decisions.
Tetsu Nozaki, head of JF Fukushima, has spoken of his desire for “a national debate, not limited to the opinions of the local fishermen and communities”. The issue of oceanic dumping goes beyond the people of Fukushima. Goshi Hosono, a former minister for nuclear power policy, was way off the mark when he stated that “people outside of Fukushima opposing the discharge amounts to anti-Fukushima discrimination” (July 20, 2020, Abema TV Prime online news, Asahi Television network). The real “anti-Fukushima discrimination” here is the attitude that “oceanic dumping is the only way for Fukushima to recover” in defiance of the many voices of opposition. Statements like this do not help the people of Fukushima. If Fukushima is to recover, we must not use its seas and skies as a dumping ground for contaminated water.
We call on the Japanese government and TEPCO to listen carefully to the strength of public opinion and abandon its fait accompli stance on oceanic dumping, and to start discussions with the entire population on the fate of the contaminated water. The foundation of democratic policy making is a process of engaging with one anothers’ opinions and seeking the best solutions through dialogue. It is time to respect those alive now and those who will be here in the future, and to make the decision to treat the ocean that gave rise to life on Earth with the respect it deserves.
Chiyo Oda, Kazuyoshi Sato, joint representatives
Stop polluting the sea! Citizens action group