Japan’s Toxic Dumping Faces Growing Protests
By Robert Hunziker
The Japanese government’s decision one year ago to dump radioactive water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant storage tanks into the Pacific Ocean, starting in the spring of 2023, is facing increasing pressure to back off, especially in light of the facts that not only is it illegal but also morally reprehensible as well as a despicable disregard for the lifeblood of the ocean.
Meanwhile, in a startling maneuver indicative of desperation to convince citizens of its true worthiness, the Japanese government is using mind control tactics reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (Chatto & Windus, 1932), which depicts harmful effects that the expansion and development of a capitalist ideology can impose on a society.
To wit: Japanese citizens are outraged over a new government policy of brainwashing children by distributing flyers to primary school students claiming TEPCO’s “diluted, nuclear-contaminated water is safe.”
“The government sent a total of 2.3 million booklets directly to elementary, junior and senior high schools across the nation in December in an effort to prevent reputational damage caused by the planned water discharge. The school staffers say the leaflets are unilaterally imposing the central government’s views on children.” (Source: Booklets Touting Fukushima Plant Water Discharge Angers Schools, The Asahi Shimbun, March 7, 2022)
“A Fukushima resident surnamed Kataoka told the Global Times on Wednesday that the Japanese government’s move was a kind of mind control, and she was strongly opposed to it.” (Source: Japanese Groups Voice Growing Opposition, Organize Rallies Over Govt’s Nuclear-Contaminated Water Dumping Plan Decided One Year Before, Global Times, April 13, 2022)
Japanese citizens are fighting back as four separate civic organizations from Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures submitted a petition signed by 180,000 people to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and to Tokyo Electric Power Company on March 30th 2022 expressing opposition to the government’s plan.
Additionally, Japanese environmental protection groups have organized national rallies in Tokyo and Fukushima, stating they will continue to rally in the streets until the government revokes its decision: “Once the nuclear-contaminated water is discharged into the sea, the result is irreversible. It’s not only Fukushima. The ocean connects the whole world. We hope we don’t discharge toxic substances into the sea,” said protester Ayumu Aoyanagi. “I am angry. They completely ignored public opinion. I hope people understand that the danger may not appear soon but will definitely affect our health in the future,” said another protester named Makiyo Takahashi.” (Source: Fukushima Residents Oppose Government Dumping Radioactive Water Into Ocean, CGTN News, April 14, 2022)
Zhao Lijian of the Chinese Foreign Ministry claims the Japanese government has turned a deaf ear to any and all opposition, failing to provide any convincing evidence of the legitimacy of the discharge program, no reliable data on the contaminated water and effectiveness of purification devices, and no convincing evidence about environmental impact. (Source: Japan Severely Breaches Obligations Under International Law by Persisting in Discharge of Nuclear-contaminated Water Into Ocean, People’s Daily Online, April 15, 2022)
Moreover, “this water adds to the already nuclear polluted ocean. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of islanders heavily reliant on marine resources. These include inshore fisheries as well as pelagic fishes such as tuna. The former provides daily sustenance and food security, and the latter much needed foreign exchange via fishing licenses for distant water fishing nation fleets,” Vijay Naidu, adjunct professor at the School of Law and Social Sciences at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, told Al Jazeera. (Source: ‘Not a Dumping Ground’: Pacific Condemns Fukushima Water Plan, Al Jazeera, Feb. 14, 2022)
The principal radioactive isotope to be released “tritium is a normal contaminant from the discharges, the cooling water from normal reactor operations, but this is the equivalent of several centuries worth of normal production of tritium that’s in this water, so it is a very large amount,” according to Tilman Ruff, a Nobel laureate and associate professor at the Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Ibid.
Japan claims the radioactive water dump will be safe, however: “Obviously, the higher the level of exposure [to radiation], the greater the risk, but there is no level below which there is no effect,” Ruff said. “That is now really fairly conclusively proven, because in the last decade or so there have been impressive very large studies of large numbers of people exposed to low doses of radiation. At levels even a fraction of those that we receive from normal background [radiation] exposure from the rocks, from cosmic radiation. At even those very low levels, harmful effects have been demonstrated,” Ibid.
Chang Yen-chiang, director of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea Research Institute of Dalian Maritime University is urging the international community to stop the discharge by first requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the illegality of Japan’s dumping plan followed by motions to stop the process by China, South Korea, Russia, North Korea, and Pacific Island nations at the UN General Assembly.
Japan, as a signatory to: (1) the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (2) the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (3) the Convention on Nuclear Safety (4) the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management, and (5) the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management has clearly and knowingly breached its obligations under international law.
According to the plan 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.
However, according to an article in People’s Daily Online d/d April 15, 2022: “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.”
Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia claims the toxic water dump risks additional nuclear debris into the Pacific Ocean whereas the discharge is not the only option as “ the Japanese government once admitted that there is enough space near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and areas around Fukushima prefecture to build more storage facilities for the water.” (Global Times)
The Citizens Committee on Nuclear Energy recommends proper storage on land in Japan similar to storage the country uses for its national oil and petroleum reserves. “The argument that they make… is that, if this water was stored not for an indeterminate period, but even for a period of about 50-60 years, then, by then, the tritium will have decayed to a tiny fraction of what it is today and hardly be an issue.” (Al Jazeera)
Even though the US boldly approves of the dumping plan, the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory with a population of over 50,000 people, has declared Japan’s plan as “unacceptable.” In December 2021, the US territory adopted a joint resolution opposing any nation disposing of nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean as well as suggesting the only acceptable option is long-term storage and processing using the best technology available.
In all similar circumstances, historical events have a way of swinging back and forth in time and landing smack dab in the middle of new controversies, for example, when it comes to radioactivity in the Pacific, memories are long. More than 300 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests by the US, UK, and France from the 1940s, especially in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia, left uninhabitable land in many locations as well as long-term health disorders throughout the region. Japan’s dumping plans bring back haunting memories.
“Satyendra Prasad, the Chair of Pacific Islands Forum Ambassadors at the United Nations, reminded the world in September last year of the Pacific’s “ongoing struggle with the legacy of nuclear testing from the trans boundary contamination of homes and habitats to higher numbers of birth defects and cancers.” (Al Jazeera)
Meantime, and especially over the past couple of decades, Japan increasingly and fearlessly adheres to, and puts into actual practice, the overriding theme as expressed in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“, which is “the dangers of state control” whilst the father of liberalism John Locke (1632-1704) not surprisingly spins in his grave.
For example, in December 2013 Japan passed the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets Act providing for whistleblowing civil servants to face up to 10 years in prison and the journalists who work with them could face up to five years for leaking state secrets.
Here’s a major twist to that law: The guidelines empower the heads of 19 ministries and agencies to subjectively “designate which documents and subjects comprise state secrets.” In short, subjective judgment by any given state official determines who goes to jail.
“The result is that while civil servants will be aware of a document’s classification, journalists cannot be sure just what comprises a state secret. Whistleblowing civil servants and journalists could face arrest even if they are convinced they are acting in the public’s interest.” (Source: Japan’s State Secrets Law, A Minefield for Journalist, Committee to Protect Journalists-NY, Nov. 4, 2014)
Since Japan appears to be adhering to the precepts of “Brave New World“, it’s interesting to note that thirty years following publication of “Brave New World“, Huxley wrote “Brave New World Revisited“: “If the first half of the twentieth century was the era of the technical engineers, the second half may well be the era of the social engineers— and the twenty-first century, I suppose, will be the era of World Controllers, the scientific caste system and “Brave New World“.” (Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World Revisited“, Harper & Brothers, 1958)
Huxley warned that a “Brave New World” type of order could be the “final” or “ultimate” revolution when people have their liberties taken from them, but “they will enjoy their servitude and so never question it, let alone rebel.”
Based in Los Angeles, Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.
Robert Hunziker can be reached at [email protected].
This article was originally published on April 29, 2022 © Counterpunch