Fukushima Nwastewater Controversy: A Comprehensive Analysis
Background and Context
On April 13, 2021, the Japanese government announced plans to release over a million tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea over a span of 30 years. This move has generated strong backlash from various stakeholders, including the Japanese public and neighboring countries.
For example, the decision came after Japan ran out of storage space for the accumulating wastewater, which is a byproduct of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Treatment of Nuclear Wastewater
The water is treated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) using Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), designed to remove 62 types of radioactive materials. However, it does not remove tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
TEPCO and the Japanese government maintain that the tritium levels in the treated water do not exceed international standards. However, experts, like Dr. Arun Vishwanathan, argue that removing tritium is almost chemically impossible and the only alternative is dilution.
Public opinion is divided with a substantial percentage opposed to the discharge. Protests have been staged in Seoul, and surveys indicate that 8085% of South Koreans oppose Japan's decision.
A poll by Japan’s Jiji Press shows that 16.3% of respondents oppose the discharge, and 30.8% are neither opposed nor in favor, reflecting the general apprehension surrounding the issue.
China has banned seafood imports from Japan in the wake of this decision, citing potential health risks.
South Korea remains cautiously optimistic, placing trust in the IAEA's assurances but maintaining a 2011 ban on seafood from the waters near Fukushima.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol publicly ate seafood to build trust, but the decision has reignited historical tensions and geopolitical issues.
The decision has wider geopolitical implications, especially in Japan's relations with China and South Korea. It has particularly led to nationalist sentiments and strategic fissures.
Mr. Jagannath Panda suggests that China’s hardline response should be viewed through the lens of increasing geopolitical tensions, especially as Japan and South Korea move closer diplomatically.
Japan will continue to release the treated wastewater and will set aside 80 billion yen for compensation to fishers.
The government aims to revive its nuclear energy sector, even as it faces public distrust and international scrutiny. Experts like M.V. Ramana warn that the environmental and health risks are far from over.