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Japan’s nuclear waste water plan sparks new rounds of controversy and debate

Back on March 11, 2011, as a historical magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Northeastern side of Japan peninsulas, a massive nuclear disaster occurred as the triggered Tsunami flooded over and destructed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, inducing societies to rethink about using nuclear energy and its safety issues. As statistics reported, more than 150000 people had to evacuate from the exclusion zone that become highly radioactive and non-suitable for settlement.

Until nowadays, the exclusion zone keeps most of its original citizens out, estimating that it will still take up to 40 years to finish remaining cleaning up works with to secure removal of highly radioactive wastes like fuel rods and nuclear waste waters left in the chambers of exploded reactor plants, potentially harmful to living beings if mistreated, and costing over trillions of yen in total. Yet storage space for waste waters are looking to filled up, as the original operator of the power plant Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) build over a thousand tanks to contain 1.32 millions metric tons of them, which are able to fill up more than 500 Olympic sized pools.

Solutions to safely treat the radioactive coolant water has been quite painful for the country, yet the Japanese government has recently come up with a new plan, which has sparked great controversy and debates over the past weeks. Latest on July 4 2023, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the filtered, pre-treated waste water has proofed to meet international standards, meaning that it will be fine to be disposed gradually to nearby waterbodies, as Tepco adapted precise measures to minimise radiation through over 100 times dilution. Details of plans has been discussed since 2021, with estimation to begin releasing 1 million of the stored, treated to the ocean starting in the upcoming summer.

The director general of IAEA Rafael Grossi has visited Japan in Person on June 30,2023 to assess the plans about releasing the water, inspecting the facilities’ remains and meeting with government official like Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Reported by Nikkei Asia on July 5, 2023, Kishida mentioned that they "will not allow emissions that are detrimental to the health and environment of the people of Japan and the world," and will continue to carefully explain the situation domestically and internationally with a high level of transparency based on scientific evidence."

Nearby countries, especially those shored the Pacific Ocean are naturally concerned and sceptical. Supporters like South Korea has backed up the Japanese government, trusting UN’s analysis and believing that the treated water should be safe for ocean discharge, Rafael Grossi also made a visit on 8 July 2023, meeting with South Korea’s nuclear safety officials, yet protests have been seen upon his arrival at Gimpo Airport.

Similarly, other remains generally opposing to the rush plan, such as the 17 Pacific Island Forum member states which are still going through process to double check nuclear water test on the waste water. China have also criticised over Japan’s decision and have decided to uphold its past ban on partial Japanese food imports, with remarks to undergo radiation tests to other food from the country, while also accusing Japan’s plan as using the nature as its “private sewer”. Witnessing the past nuclear disasters, it seems that only time and continuous assessment on water quality can be prove if the treatments have been executed in well manner, in order to smoothen heightening public anxiety over related matters like food safety.

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