Scientists, environmentalists and fisherfolk from around the Pacific took part in a global media conference on August 10 as part of the campaign to stop Japan’s planned dumping of nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean. The plant went into a triple meltdown after being hit by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Japan plans to release 1.25 million tonnes of treated wastewater from the plant into the ocean. Dumping is expected to begin sometime in late August or early September and will continue for 30 years.
Tim Deere-Jones, an independent marine pollution researcher and consultant on anthropogenic pollutants in marine and coastal environments said that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) — which effectively green-lighted (but did not officially endorse) the dumping — had tried to minimise ocean circulation patterns that can concentrate radioactive pollution in its July report.
“Back in the 1990s, European nuclear reprocessor sea discharged radioactivity was identified off north-east Alaska, making its way through the Arctic towards the Pacific Ocean,” said Deere Jones.
“In general terms, the Pacific Ocean circulatory system consists of major surface water currents moving in a clockwise direction in the direction of the prevailing trade winds. These surface water currents are powerful, long-range and coherent. This means that Pacific Ocean circulation is well placed to transport radioactive material for long distances, over long time scales and contribute to the ongoing increase of Oceanwide radiological pollution.”
Yet, the IAEA July report has not responded in detail to concerns about the long-range transport of Fukushima radioactivity through the Pacific environment, he told the media conference.
“In the 1970s, the UK nuclear industry discovered that in onshore winds Caesium, Plutonium and Americium transferred from the sea to the land in marine aerosols and sea spray and crossed the shoreline to penetrate inland.
“Concentrations of nuclides were enriched, relative to levels in ambient seawater, during the process, with enrichment factors of up to several hundred for Plutonium and Americium but lower for Caesium.”
The greatest enrichments were associated with airborne marine micro-organisms, organic and sedimentary particles entrained in marine aerosol micro-droplets.
The nuclear industry hastily abandoned this research, leaving many ongoing concerns unanswered.
“Later independent research proved that over 200 miles from the discharge point, marine radioactivity blew inland from the coast and contaminated agricultural produce ten miles inland.
“Given the well-established very deep inland penetration of sea salt (hundreds of miles) and marine micro-organisms (at least 100 miles) it seems highly likely that the radioactivity may penetrate far further than 10 miles.”
Other British studies have proved that coastal flooding dumps thousands of tonnes of radioactively contaminated water and sediment onto coastal farmland and urban environments", said Deere-Jones. Such events deliver dietary, inhalation and contact doses to those living in such environments and consuming produce grown on coastal land.
“Given the evidence that man-made sea discharged radioactivity can be transported by sea for thousands of miles, it is evident that sea to land transfer has significant dose potential. Yet, the IAEA July report has not discussed the issue or responded to the concerns.”
Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen that occurs as a by-product of the operation of nuclear reactors. The most common form of tritium is tritiated water (HTO). HTO has the same chemical properties as water and is also odourless and colourless.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) — which runs the Fukushima nuclear power station, the Japanese Government and the IAEA have claimed that the radioactive HTO that is to be released is harmless, but post-1990's British research has proved that the radio-nuclide Tritium in HTO becomes bound to organic material and micro-organisms in marine environments and so can be transferred from the sea to the land in flood water, sea spray and aerosols", said Deere-Jones.
Furthermore, Organically Bound Tritium (OBT) is highly mobile through the marine food webs and is “highly bio-accumulated” in species such as cod fish and shelduck.
Such species typically held concentrations between 2000 to 6000 times more enriched than the concentrations in ambient waters, said Deere-Jones.
Dr Arjun Makhijani, a member of the Expert Panel appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum and President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) said the IAEA had violated its own principles by not showing that the “benefits outweigh costs” with this dumping.
He added that the IAEA report also did not consider economic and social harms even though these are part of its requirements. Japan’s unilateral decision to dump radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean without the consent of all Pacific region countries is opening the door for similar actions by other countries.
“It is a recipe for ecological disorder and is blatantly undemocratic.”
Haruo Ono, a fisherman for 55 years in northern Fukushima, said he opposed the ocean release along with all other fisherfolk in the Fukushima prefecture.
“The sea is a fisherman's workplace and also a place where fish live. The sea is one big creature, and why is it trying to shed tritium-contaminated water there?”
Another fisherman, Kim Young-chul from the National Fishermen Association in South Korea, said: “Since the Japanese government declared the dumping of contaminated water in the ocean in 2021, we Korean fishermen have been opposing the dumping [in] the ocean, holding many land and sea demonstrations. We will fight until the Japanese government gives up dumping at sea.”
“The Korean government, Japanese government, and the UN should take the lead in protecting the seas of all mankind rather than political interests,” Kim added.
Dave McCutch, a commercial fisherman from Oregon, in the United States said that when the Fukushima disaster took place, debris washed up on Oregon's shores.
“It killed the market for our fish for two years,” he said.
Mark Baker, another fisherman from the US, told the media conference he was most concerned about the impact on future generations.
“This is a mess we will never be able to clean up,” he said.
The fishing industry already saw the massive concentration of plastic waste in the ocean, 40% of which was caused by that industry, therefore radioactive waste could also concentrate, Baker argued.
Ronnel Arambulo, from the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines, said fisherfolk in his country “strongly opposed" the dumping.
“It has the potential to have substantial negative impacts on fisheries and other marine resources in the biggest ocean in the world,” he warned.
“Of particular concern ... is the already vulnerable Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise), a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau between Aurora and Isabela in the eastern part of Luzon, which boasts different kinds of marine resources,” Arambulo explained.
The livelihood of millions of Filipino fisherfolk will be affected and it would put the Philippines’ food security at risk.
Epeli Lesuma, from Pacific Network on Globalisation, said the dumping of Fukushima's radioactive waste water violates Japan's obligations under the Law of the Sea and does not have the consent of Pacific island peoples. He called on the governments of Australia and New Zealand to support their Pacific neighbours in this matter.
Japan is looking to “dump the wastewater on the cheap” and there is no plan for adequate monitoring of its impact over the next three decades, warned Chen Shi-Ting, a senior researcher with the Green Citizen Action Alliance in Taiwan.
Jim Green from Friends of the Earth, Australia, said the prospect that 33 other nuclear power-using nations will follow Japan's bad example, is most worrying.
Dana Ngo from Ocean Health Cooperatives in the US said that according to the UN, we are living in the Decade of the Ocean. With seven years to go, the world still has a chance to demonstrate better stewardship of the ocean.
[A global petition for a million signatures has already gathered nearly 2 million endorsements. It can be signed here.]