Progressive sections in Japan and abroad denounced the Japanese government’s decision to release contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor into the Pacific ocean. On April 13, Tuesday, prime minister Yoshihide Suga announced the decision to release the water from the nuclear plant after necessary treatments. The Fukushima nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (TEPCO), has been storing the contaminated water from the plant which was damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
As of now, more than one million metric tons of radioactive water have been stored in over 1,000 tanks. Experts say that this water should be treated and released into the ocean with due process, involving decades.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), several environmental groups, and the local fishing community have raised strong objections against the government’s decision. Neighboring countries including South Korea and China have also raised concerns over Japan’s decision.
A massive earthquake and tsunami hit the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, causing a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. The tsunami waves swept over the plant’s seawall, flooded the reactor, and damaged the reactor cooling system. This led to nuclear meltdowns, explosions and radioactive contamination. Following the accident, the government organized a massive evacuation of around 154,000 residents to protect them from the airborne radioactive contamination. However, leakage of groundwater contaminated with radioactive materials from the damaged reactors into the ocean has emerged as a major challenge for the authorities.
The authorities have been trying to minimize the leakage of radioactive water into the ocean through several measures including storing the contaminated water in tanks. TEPCO authorities have calculated that their storage capacity will soon be exhausted given the current rate of storage. They have requested the government to permit the discharge of water in the tanks after continuous filtering to remove hazardous radioactive substances.
However, the local fishing community and environmentalists have little trust in TEPCO’s assurance of safety and its capacity for filtering radioactive wastes from the contaminated water. In the initial years after the nuclear accident, TEPCO had denied possibilities of leakage of radioactive water from the plant leading to contamination of the ocean water. In 2013, they admitted that leaks had been taking place, substantiating the concerns raised by the local fishermen and investigators.
The local fishermen community argue that people stopped buying their products due to the 2011 accident and that they are still fighting the rumors of contaminated seafood. Fresh release of contaminated water can cause another backlash.
On April 13, progressive youth in Fukushima under the leadership of the Democracy Action to Protect Peace and Equality (DAPPE) and the Fukushima Reconstruction Co-Center organized a demonstration in front of the prefectural office to protest the government’s decision.
The JCP also expressed strong objection to the decision by the incumbent conservative government. JCP secretary general Akira Koike said, “we should not decide to release contaminated water into the ocean in the face of such opposition, objections, and concerns from the people. In the meantime, we should bring together the wisdom of the world to resolve it. We strongly oppose the immediate decision on the release of the ocean.”
In its statement, the Japanese chapter of environmental network Friends of Earth (FoE) also strongly condemned the decision by the Japanese government to release contaminated water into the ocean. The group has opined that the total amount of radioactive material contained in the water is unknown and alternative proposals were never discussed or taken into account. “With the latest decision made through an undemocratic decision making process, the government is breaking its promise with fishery communities. An open and transparent discussion is needed to solve the problem,” the group said.