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Morrison Government needs to act on Japan's Fukushima waste decision

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The Morrison Government should take action on the Fukushima wastewater dilemma (Image by Dan Jensen)

The Morrison Government hasn't given any public response to the Japanese Government's decision to dump radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, writes Nullah Goodes.

ON 13 APRIL, the Japanese Government formally announced a Cabinet decision that it would dump more than 1 million tonnes of radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea. This plan will be implemented in two years.

The Japanese Government insists that the water will be treated before being dumped into the sea. However, this move has drawn fierce doubts and opposition from home and abroad. 

Many Japanese citizens have expressed strong opposition, urging the Government to cancel this decision.

Right after Japan's announcement, its neighbours, including South Korea and China, expressed strong opposition. Later, the Philippines also joined concerns over this issue.

The U.S. seems to support Japan's decision, however, saying the Japanese Government appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards. In addition, it is worth pointing out that before Japan's formal announcement of its plan, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert on Japanese food over radionuclide contamination concern.

On 15 April, three independent U.N. human rights experts expressed deep concern over Japan's decision, warning that it could impact millions across the Pacific region: 

“The release of one million tonnes of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan,” said Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Michael Fakhri,  Special Rapporteur on Right to Food and David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment in a joint statement.

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, said the claim by the Japanese Government was “clearly false”:

“The water in the tanks is indeed treated, but it is also contaminated with radioactivity. The Japanese Government has been deliberately seeking to deceive over this issue, at home and abroad.”

The Japanese Government insists that the wastewater is treated and safe. However, it still has radioactive elements.

Although most of the radioactive elements can be filtered out by a system known as the A.L.P.S. (Advanced Liquid Processing System), tritium, a mildly radioactive form of hydrogen, cannot be removed.

Nigel Marks, an Associate Professor of physics and astronomy at Curtin University in Perth, said:

“It takes around 60-100 years to completely convert into harmless helium. In the spectrum of radioactive elements, tritium is at the mild end.”

Greenpeace suggested carbon-14, a radioactive isotope of carbon, might also remain in the water.

In addition to tritium and carbon-14, more dangerous isotopes with longer radioactive lifetimes, such as ruthenium, cobalt, strontium and plutonium, sometimes slip through the A.L.P.S. process, which was acknowledged by TEPCO in 2018. These additional nuclides are now confirmed present in 71 per cent of its radioactive wastewater tanks at Fukushima.

Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said:

“These radioactive isotopes behave differently than tritium in the ocean and are more readily incorporated into marine biota or seafloor sediments.”

According to a previous study by Germany's GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, once being dumped into the sea, the Fukushima contaminated nuclear wastewater will pollute half of the Pacific Ocean in 57 days and in three years, Canada and the U.S. will be affected by the nuclear radiation pollution. Since all the oceans are interconnected, Australia will inevitably be impacted in the long term.

Despite all the above facts and concerns, the Morrison Government hasn't given any response or taken any action like it doesn't care about the fishery industry's livelihood, Australians' well-being and the health of the ocean ecosystem. There are few discussions on Australian media outlets as though people don't even know about this. That's odd and shocking.

The Morrison Government needs to take action. Firstly, raising concerns over the decision of the Japanese Government. Secondly, doing scientific research about any potential impacts of the contaminated water if dumped into the sea. And thirdly, developing an appropriate crisis response plan for multiple scenarios. As Prime Minister, Scott Morrison must do the best to protect Australians' wellbeing and benefits which should always be a PM's priority. 

Nullah Goodes is a community worker from Cape York Peninsula. His community has been living on Torres Strait Fisheries since a long time ago. He has been devoting himself to Indigenous people's rights and livelihood.

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