Japan severely breaches obligations under international law by persisting in discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into ocean

Japan is being extremely selfish and irresponsible by willfully clinging to its decision to release nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean in disregard of the strong opposition of the international community.


Its despicable act constitutes gross infringement of the legitimate rights and interests of its neighboring countries, severe breach of international justice and its obligations under international law, and major threat to the marine environment and the right to health of people around the world.


On April 13, 2021, the Japanese government unilaterally decided to dump a massive amount of nuclear-contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) into the ocean despite doubts and opposition from home and abroad.


One year has passed since Japan announced the erroneous decision and the country still hasn’t realized how terrible a mistake it is. According to a plan recently released by TEPCO for the disposal of nuclear-contaminated water generated by Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the country will soon begin official preparations for the release of the contaminated water and plans to begin long-term discharge of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023.


While Japan opted for the discharge of the contaminated water into the ocean, an option with the least economic cost to itself, it posed the biggest environmental health and safety risk to the world. What an act of selfish calculation!


Data from TEPCO showed that the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear accident still contains many kinds of radionuclides with a long half-life even after secondary treatment.


Japan plans to release more than one million tons of nuclear-contaminated water over a period of 30 years. The amount it intends to discharge, the duration of the release, the sea area covered, and potential risks that can be generated by the activity are all unprecedented.


The decision has aroused deep concerns and strong opposition from all sectors of society even at home. About 180,000 people in Japan recently signed a petition against the decision to dump nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. Several organizations in Japan, including the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, have reiterated their opposition to the decision.


According to an article published on Fukushima Minpo, a newspaper based in Fukushima prefecture of Japan, the Japanese government should respect the opinions of its citizens, listen to the voices of local residents, and terminate the plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.


As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, the Convention on Nuclear Safety, and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, Japan has knowingly breached its obligations under international law.


It didn’t conduct full consultation with its neighboring countries and other stakeholders before announcing its decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. After its announcement of the decision, many countries, including China, South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines, as well as relevant international institutions, have expressed concerns over the issue and raised doubts and concerns with the Japanese side over the legitimacy of the discharge of the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, the rationality of the discharge plan, the credibility of data about the nuclear contaminated water and the reliability of the equipment to purify the nuclear-contaminated water.


However, to this day, Japan has yet to give a full and credible explanation for its decision and serious responses to relevant doubts and concerns.


People in Japan’s neighboring countries and countries on the Pacific Rim have rights to health and life as well as the environment. Japan, on the other hand, wants to make short-term money at the expense of these rights.


The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council released a report urging that the Japanese government should face up to its responsibility for the disposal of nuclear-contaminated water.


In a joint statement, U.N. human rights experts said that Japan’s decision to release contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean is “particularly disappointing” and “very concerning”.


“The release of one million tons 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,” they said in the joint statement.


The international community has frequently expressed voices of justice, such as “The Pacific is not a dumping ground for radioactive waste water” and “keep our Pacific nuclear-free”. However, Japan has turned a deaf ear to all of them.


In this February, a technical working group of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Japan for the first time and raised many questions to the Japanese side about its controversial plan to release radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Evaluation of the disposal of the nuclear-contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is still in progress.


Surprisingly, Japan has not only ignored the concerns of various parties over the discharge of its nuclear-contaminated wastewater, but preset results for the evaluation conducted by the IAEA technical working group. The country repeatedly concealed information and covered up the truth.


When doubts about its decision to dump radioactive water into the ocean poured in, the country made no attempt to reflect on the legitimacy of the decision and correct its mistake, but blamed those who doubted its decision for damaging its reputation.


The Japanese side should know that no matter what it does to whitewash the plan to release the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, it would only increase the international community’s concerns.


The disposal of the nuclear-contaminated water is never Japan’s private matter. Instead, it bears on the marine environment and public health of the whole world.


Japan should pay careful attention to and respond to the concerns of its neighboring countries and other members of the international community, stop pushing forward with preparations for the discharge of the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, and withdraw its erroneous decision, so as to avoid further damage to its credibility.


(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy and international affairs.)