The new Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, is facing additional international pressure over the weekend, amid reports that Japan will be accelerating plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water directly into the ocean.
As Forbes writes, reports have being widely circulated among Japan’s leading news agency and across international media that suggest the decision has already been taken by the new Japanese Government, and will be publicly communicated later this month.
Over 1.2 million tons of radioactive cooling water from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant will be released.
Environmentalists and local fishermen have been urging the Japanese Government to reconsider this option, after almost a decade trying to build back their reputation around the plant, where elevated radioactive levels can still be detected.
South Korea still bans all seafood imports from this part of Japan, and has held urgent talks with Japanese counterparts to try and find a more measured approach to managing the Fukushima water crisis that would not risk the environment or human health.
The outrage over these plans come just three weeks after Prime Minister Suga personally visited the Fukushima plant, on September 26.
It follows a series of policy announcements by Japan that raises questions about how effective the country is a sustainable steward of the ocean amid the global climate and biodiversity crisis. In 2019, Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission to begin commercial whaling. At the UN shipping regulator, the IMO, Japan chairs the influential Environment Committee and has consistently pushed for much lower emission and pollution standards for its powerful shipping lobby.
Running out of storage space
To cool radioactive fuel cores at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan had pumped 1.2 million tons of water through the rods and this water became contaminated with radioactive tritium. Once used for cooling, this radioactive tritium cannot be removed, so the water was placed into storage.
Japan is now running out of space as it rushes to fully decommission the nuclear plant. The clean up has already cost the Japanese utility owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), $200 billion.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Environment, its tanks will be full by 2022.
Japanese Ministers under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Government had been pushing for the dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean for years. Last year, Japan’s environment minister said that the only solution was to “release it into the ocean and dilute it.”
“There are no other options,” he said.
With the new Prime Minister in place, it looks like Japan wishes to move ahead quickly.
Japan ignoring UN advice
Several UN human rights experts had been urging Japan not to release the radioactive water, amid fears it would drift into the coastline of neighboring countries and enter the food chain.
Scandal surrounding Japan’s Scientific Council
A pattern seems to be forming with the new Japanese administration, where there has been greater political interference into academia whenever scientific truth appears to be inconvenient.
In the Japan Scientific Council scandal, several academics had challenged the Japanese Government on whether the growing militarization of Japan’s armed forces was permitted under the Constitution. They were then rejected from the Governing Board of the 206 member organization. This is the first time such an interference has occurred, and had been widely criticized by Japan’s academic and research community, including several Nobel Prize Winners, who argue this is political interference in academic freedom.
This comes on the back of Japan taking a very controversial position on climate change, the oil spill response in Mauritius due to a Japanese vessel, and now with significant questions about the safety of releasing Fukushima water into the ocean.
Released as ballast water?
One of the ideas that had been suggested in Japan was whether the radioactive Fukushima water could be taken as ballast water in ships, far away from Japan’s shores.
This would be in strict violation of several UN ocean ship pollution laws, called Marpol.
However, the IMO has been criticized for being lax in the monitoring and enforcement of such laws that it was so proud to announce and accept external funding for from another UN trust fund, GEF, in 2017.
As islanders in Mauritius are still reeling from the aftermath of the deadly oil spill, new questions are being raised about the potential content of the ballast water from the Japanese-owned and operated vessel.
70 days on, and there are an unprecedented number of unanswered questions, ranging from how much oil was actually spilled in the oil spill, to the amount of ballast water that was being carried by the empty 200,000 ton Capesize iron ore bulk carrier (one of the biggest ships in the ocean), to what has happened to the fingerprinting of the oil.
The Japanese owners of the Wakashio, Nagashiki Shipping, have not responded to any question from the media since August 30, prompting further anger among Mauritians who are still in a state of national environmental emergency.
Hundreds of local fishermen have been banned from venturing into seven of Mauritius’ coral lagoons amid high cancer-causing PAH readings from fish samples. Yet, large industrial fish farms just five miles from the oil spill have been allowed to continue producing and selling 3 million fish into international export markets.
Satellite analysis by Ursa Space Systems and Iceye, taken in the immediate aftermath of the spill showed the toxic oil spreading ten times in size in just five days, reaching Mauritius’ more northerly islands, 14 miles away.
President Macron folds to Japan’s weaker climate position
Global shipping is the sixth largest emitter of carbon, and produces more carbon than France and Germany combined.
President Macron, once seen as a champion for the environment, appears to be siding with Japan at next week’s crunch UN talks on ship emissions that will decide the trajectory of ship emissions for the next decade.
Japan’s proposals are less than a quarter of the level of ambition needed to meet Paris commitments on climate change, leaving shipowners with very little changes that they need to make to their ships.
With France having the world’s fourth largest container ship company, CMA-CGM, whose revenues at over $30 billion are more than double that of Wakashio operator, Japan-based Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), meeting emissions targets would have impacted the French shipping company harder than the Japanese major.
Perhaps this was the deal that was needed to allow Japan to get rid of that other inconvenient problem – radioactive Fukushima water.