People protest against the Japanese government's plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the sea in Fukushima, Japan, June 20, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]
Recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delivered a safety review report on Japan's plan to release nuclear-contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, saying that its discharge meets international safety standards.
Despite the endorsement from the UN watchdog, experts are divided regarding the final conclusions of the review, which therefore has dented the credibility of Japan being given a free pass to discharge the wastewater into the ocean.
Since it was announced two years ago, the plan has been controversial in Japan, with local communities expressing concerns about contamination. As Japan recently announced that it would begin to implement its plan as early as August, it sparked outrage and anxiety at home and abroad once again.
In Japan, despite the government's promise to adhere to the highest national safety and cleanliness standards, local fishermen have expressed their outrage over the impending contamination of their livelihoods, as releasing wastewater will impact seafood and fishing industries, as well as negatively impact revenue needed to sustain local economies.
UN-appointed human rights experts also voiced their opposition as they believed that the release of over 1.3 million tonnes of contaminated water into the marine environment "imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan."
Radioactive wastewater contains dangerous elements, some of which can be removed from the water, while others cannot, such as radioactive tritium, which increases the risk of cancer if it is consumed in large quantities. According to scientists, there is currently no technology available to extract it from the water. The accumulation of such elements therefore poses potential risks to the entire marine ecosystem in the Asia Pacific region and marine areas at large.
There are other options available to deal with nuclear-contaminated water. However, the Japanese government has decided to dump it directly into the Pacific Ocean, which is the easiest and, of course, the most irresponsible way they could have handled the situation.
The plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the sea is not Japan's private matter. Rather, it is an important issue concerning human health across the globe.
It is reckless and unreasonable to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean unilaterally without considering the long-term environmental and health impacts.
Hamzah Rifaat Hussain, a former visiting fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington and former assistant researcher at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, is an anchor at ThinkTech Hawaii.