SUVA, 10 JULY 2023 (ABC PACIFIC) — Anxiety is rising among Japan’s neighbours ahead of a plan to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Calls to boycott Japanese exports, from seafood to cosmetic products, spread across social media after the Chinese government announced it would tighten its scrutiny of food from Japan and maintain curbs on some imports.
The nuclear plant, devastated in 2011 by a magnitude-8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, is set to release more than a million tonnes of radioactive water.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said a two-year review showed Japan’s plan for the release would have negligible environmental impact.
But Beijing said the IAEA released its report in “haste” and it “failed to fully reflect views from experts that participated in the review”
“The conclusion was not shared by all experts,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Authorities in Hong Kong recently said they had “repeatedly expressed grave concern about the impact of the discharge plan on food safety”, and planned to impose some curbs on seafood from high risk areas once the release of wastewater begins.
While some experts dismissed these fears as government propaganda, on social media, some consumers said they were not taking any chances.
Zoey Qi, 28, said she was formerly a user of an array of Japanese products from cosmetics to clothing, but she decided to “start to boycott all Japanese products now”.
She shared her boycott plan with the hope that economic losses would prompt companies to pressure the government to stop the wastewater release plan.
“I don’t deny Japan has great culture and great products, but a wrong decision is a wrong decision,” she said.
“I’m doing this for the ecology of the entire Earth. As an ordinary person, I just want to live a healthy and safe life.”
Major Japanese cosmetics firm Shiseido Co recently saw its largest weekly stock plunge in nearly 10 months, with its shares down 6.8 per cent.
Japan’s neighbours have been resistant to its plan to release Fukushima wastewater.
Jim Smith, professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth, said the claims around the risks of Fukushima’s wastewater release had “no basis in science”.
“I think it’s just propaganda. The politicians don’t have any evidence in saying this,” he said.
Japan is planning to filter the 1.3 million tonnes of wastewater sitting in huge storage tanks at the Fukushima power plant using a highly specialised filtration system, called Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS).
The process will remove 62 radionuclides from the contaminated water, and leave only one contaminant called tritium, which is difficult to separate from water.
Professor Smith said the discharge of wastewater containing small amounts of tritium has “incredibly low risks” and was already happening “all over the world” for decades.
“There is a nuclear site in China that emits more tritiated water, [and] the Cap de la Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing site in northern France releases 450 times more tritiated water into the English Channel than Fukushima has planned for release into the Pacific,” he said.
Professor Smith and his colleagues have studied ecosystems in lakes at Chernobyl, which are “1,000 times more contaminated than the Pacific will be from this release” and saw “no significant negative effects on the aquatic ecosystem”.
However, some scientists are calling for alternative disposal methods to be considered.
Tony Hooker, director of the Centre for Radiation Research from Adelaide University, described the plan as being “controversial”
In a statement on the Science Media Centre, Dr Hooker said while “no environmental or human health impacts are likely to be observed” with the release, there is “growing questions regarding the use of the sea as a dumping ground when our oceans are already stressed and struggling”.
Dr Hooker said while releasing the wastewater into the Pacific was an option, other disposal methodologies should be looked at.
Some Pacific Island nations opposed the water release over concerns about the threat to the marine environment and public health.
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the peak intergovernmental organisation representing the region, has urged the delay of the Fukushima wastewater release for the past two years.
“Our people do not have anything to gain from Japan’s plan but have much at risk for generations to come,” PIF Secretary General Henry Puna said in a recent statement.
“It is clear in my mind that more work and dialogue is needed to ensure that we all come to a common understanding on this issue.”
The statement said the way forward should “involve comprehensive international consultation” with affected states, and “not only through the IAEA platform but through other relevant platforms holding the mandate on ocean and marine environmental protection”.
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister last month backtracked on his initial supportive position regarding Japan’s release plan that led to backlash from Papua New Guineans and Pacific climate and nuclear-free campaigners.
“Nuclear is not allowed in our waters. Nuclear is not allowed in the waters of Pacific,2 he said during a parliament meeting…. PACNEWS