Last Thursday, Japan commenced the release of wastewater from the Fukushima power plant, which was struck by a tsunami in 2011, into the Pacific Ocean. This action has led to a backlash from China and Hong Kong. While Japan asserts that the process is safe, scientists remain divided over the extent of its potential impact.
In 2011, Japan faced a catastrophic event, the Tōhoku Earthquake, or the Great East Japan Earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami. With a magnitude of 9.1, it wreaked havoc on the nation, causing over 15,000 confirmed deaths, and extensive damage to infrastructure, severe economic setbacks, and profound environmental consequences. More notably, the Fukushima Nuclear disaster that it caused is regarded as one of the most significant nuclear catastrophes since the Chernobyl disaster. When the tsunami waves struck, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant bore the brunt of the devastation. The cooling system suffered extensive damage, and three reactors experienced meltdowns, causing the release of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment.
After the disaster, Japanese power plant company Tepco has been pumping seawater as a means to cool the fuel on the reactors. According to National Geographic, this process of pumping water produces at least 130 tons of contaminated water daily.
Japan's release of wastewater
With over 1 million tons of water already accumulated on the premises, Japan is facing a shortage of storage space for the contaminated water, necessitating its controlled release into the ocean. Although this may seem alarming, it's important to note that the strategy of methodically discharging the wastewater has received validation from the nuclear branch of the primary institution of the liberal world order, the United Nations – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, safety concerns persist.
The water contains tritium, a radioactive isotope found worldwide in water sources. According to the IAEA and the Japanese Government, the tritium concentration in this water is below the operational limit of 1,500 becquerels per litre (Bg/L), which is six times lower than the World Health Organization's standard for drinking water which lies at 10,000 becquerels per litre (Bg/L). While the IAEA states that the environmental and human impact is 'negligible', Greenpeace opines that the radiological risks have not been evaluated. In comments to the BBC, marine biologist Robert Richmond asserted that the radiological and ecological impacts have not been fully recognised. He further stated that Japan would not be able to “...detect what’s getting into the water, sediment and organisms...,” further stating that if they do, there’s no alternative for removal of such contaminants.
International Response and Economic Implications
While Japan maintains that the implications of such an act fall short of being detrimental, China, Hong Kong and protesters in South Korea are less than impressed. In response to the release of the water, both China and Hong Kong have banned seafood imports from Japan. The brunt of this will be felt by the Japanese economy, as according to a Government White Paper on Fisheries, China and Hong Kong collectively account for 42% of its' aquatic product exports. Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, in a press conference on Friday, lamented that "The potential impact felt by those who have been exporting (to China) will be severe. We must seriously consider what we can do to rescue them." Even the Japanese PM consumed fish from the Fukushima region on Wednesday to assert its safety.
On the one hand, China’s ban is a rational response amidst possible radiological concerns, but it is indisputable that it could be a mere geopolitical tactic as reports surface on growing anti-Japan sentiment upon the wastewater release. In South Korea, an official statement was released affirming the safety of the water, yet civilians continued their protests, with around 16 protesters being arrested by South Korean police.
However, as Japan persists in its decision to release wastewater from Fukushima, it becomes engulfed in controversy. While some experts claim that it is safe, concerns from environmentalists, activists, and other nations in the region persist. The economic implications, particularly China's seafood ban, could trigger additional diplomatic tensions between the two powers. As the world closely monitors the situation, demanding further assessment of its environmental and diplomatic implications, Japan's actions may set a precedent for how nations handle nuclear waste, falling significantly short of being exemplary.
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