Following a meeting of Group of Seven ministers on climate, energy and environment in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, on Sunday Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry began speaking while the environmental ministers of Italy and Germany remained seated.
In his remarks, Yasutoshi Nishimura said that the G7 ministers “welcomed the steady progress made toward decommissioning the Fukushima plant, including the discharge of treated water into the sea, and Japan’s transparent response based on scientific evidence.”
In other words, Nishimura was implying that all the G7 ministers had endorsed the Japanese government’s plan to dump the radioactive water stored by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea this summer.
But this wasn’t actually the case. Steffi Lemke, Germany’s minister for the environment, nature conservation, nuclear safety, and consumer protection, was quick to protest Nishimura’s claim.
Lemke clarified that while she respected the efforts of TEPCO and the Japanese government after the nuclear accident, Germany cannot welcome the discharge of the contaminated water.
It is highly unusual for such an open objection to be made at a press conference held after a meeting of G7 ministers. But the reason why Lemke had no choice but to speak up, despite potentially damaging the mood, was that Nishimura’s words didn’t match with what the G7 ministers agreed in their joint communiqué published that day.
According to the joint communiqué, the ministers “welcome the steady progress of decommissioning work at the [Daiichi nuclear plant] site and Japan’s transparent efforts with IAEA based on scientific evidence.”
Regarding the contaminated water, the communiqué does not say that the G7 ministers “welcome” the release of the water, but instead says that they “support the IAEA’s independent review to ensure that the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water will be conducted consistent with IAEA safety standards and international law and that it will not cause any harm to humans and the environment.”
Nevertheless, it seems that Nishimura tried to conflate statements so as to suggest that the G7 countries were “welcoming” the discharge of the contaminated water. Nishimura ended up having to explain his remarks to reporters after the press conference, saying he had made a “mistake” in phrasing.
But was this really a mistake? The Japanese government had been persistently preparing to include the phrase “welcome the discharge of contaminated water” in the joint statement, taking advantage of its position as the host country. The goal was to use G7 support for its discharge plans as a shield to counter opposition from neighboring countries such as South Korea and China.
Japan even leaked this wording implying support for its plan to local media (Asahi Shimbun’s front page on Feb. 22) and tried to persuade each G7 country for over two months, but ultimately failed.What comes to mind while watching this kind of gaffe is the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s passive and unassertive attitude concerning the dumping of wastewater from Fukushima.
Regarding the joint communiqué, South Korea’s Office for Government Policy Coordination, which is in charge of the country’s response to the contaminated water issue, only stated that “the government must ensure that the treatment of the contaminated water is scientifically and objectively safe and meets international standards.”But, if South Korea’s environment minister had been at that press conference, would she have spoken up to voice her opposition the way Lemke did?