It’s not time to panic, it’s time to build regional scientific capacity: SPC

Dr Stuart Minchin

The head of the Pacific Community (SPC) says the region should develop scientific capability “that is owned and trusted” to monitor and advise on radioactive isotopes.

Speaking on the eve of the likely first release of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, Dr Stuart Minchin says it’s not a panic situation, as in the short term, the Pacific Islands region is unlikely to see any immediate impacts from the release from Fukushima, due to our distance from the discharge site and manner in which ocean currents work.

However he says when it comes to Fukushima and other nuclear legacy issues, “the region is currently completely dependent on the science undertaken and scientific advice provided by the same nations that are responsible for the contamination.”

He says as a result, “it’s difficult for nations in our region to fully trust the advice that they’re given by the scientists of those nations that are actually responsible for the contamination,” even if that science is robust.

Dr Minchin says nuclear issues will affect the region for many years to come, and now is the time to build regional scientific capability to monitor and provide advice.

“Good science leads to better decisions, but you’ve also got to be able to trust that science implicitly. And I think that this is the nature of why this is a difficult issue for the Pacific, because the Pacific was told that this would happen and did not have our own capability to, to track or to monitor these things as they develop.”

-Dr Stuart Minchin

Dr Minchin says now is the time to ask countries like Japan to financially support building this capability.

“It would need appropriate laboratory facilities and support and training through organisations like IAEA to create the capability to do that,” he continues, adding that it would complement SPC and other agencies’ work underway across the region in fisheries, coastal management and a wide range of other areas.

Dr Minchin believes this would benefit not only island nations and territories, but also “the originators of these issues. Whether it be France, the US, UK or Japan, they will benefit from the Pacific having trusted, objective scientific advice to support them with their management of these issues. Because at the moment, what they may be telling us may be correct, but it’s not trusted, because it’s coming from the people who caused the problem.”