Fukushima discharge expected to start Thursday, Pacific remains divided

Inspectors at the site of the Fukushima power plant. File photo

Discharge of treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan is expected to begin on Thursday, August 24, weather and sea conditions permitting.

The Japanese government has asked the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) to promptly proceed with its preparations for process.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month issued a report that concluded “that the approach and activities for this discharge are consistent with relevant international safety standards and would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment. “

The IAEA also opened its Fukushima office last month, and says it will continue its impartial, independent, and objective safety review during the discharge phase.

In the Pacific, there are a range of views on the plan, ranging from support based on the findings of the IAEA report, to continued opposition.

“[We are] urging polluters not to discharge the treated water in the Pacific Ocean until and unless the treated water is incontrovertibly proven to be safe to do so, and [to] seriously consider other options,” Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Matai Seremaiah said as members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group meet in Vanuatu.

Tuvalu’s Minister for Finance, Seve Paeniu says they will continue to oppose the planned discharge.

“The ocean is our resource, our source of survival for our communities here in the Pacific, and we want to do everything possible to avoid that sort of initiative going ahead,”  he told reporters from a meeting he is attending in Suva.

Fiji’s Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka has accepted the plan to discharge the treated water, based on his reading of the IAEA report.

At a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Troika leaders last week, the Prime Ministers of the Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji also discussed the issue.  They “acknowledged Japan’s reassurance that discharge would not take place if it was not verifiably safe to do so and reaffirmed the importance of science and data to guide decisions on the discharge.”

Rabuka also offered an apology for “acting unilaterally ahead of the Troika Meeting after having considered the IAEA Report and to which Troika Leaders acknowledge his role in taking a position for Fiji. Troika Leaders further discussed the complexities involved in the issue and acknowledged the sovereignty of individual nations to take a position based on their assessment of the available science and in the best interest of their own people.”

 Fiji’s NGO Coalition on Human Rights has called for the region’s leaders, agencies and people to reject Japan’s plan.

They say the Pacific should exercise all international legal means possible to “stop this massive ecological injustice, and to stop any capitulation to Japan on the basis of one highly politicised report from International Atomic Energy Agency that has its own problematic founding principles as a “promoter of peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

 They also welcome the clear stance of UN Special Rapporteurs Marcos A. 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, who have all publicly expressed deep disappointment and strong concerns on the impact of Fukushima waste dumping in the Pacific, which Japan has said will start even as early as this month.

 At the Office of Pacific Ocean Commissioner meeting currently underway in Nadi,  there has been reference to geopolitics and difficult emerging issues in the main sessions, but more overt discussion on the Fukushima issue in the margins.

New Pacific Ocean Commissioner Dr Filimon Manoni says he is personally concerned about Japan’s plan.

“I think from my point of view it is something we have to examine a lot more closer, I know that there have been statements and positions on the issue and that’s something that I as Commissioner may need to consider going forward.”

“But as you know, all of our positions are driven by leaders and I will take my guidance from what the leaders say and the move forward to help the region along those lines.

The United Nations’ Special Envoy on Oceans, former Fijian diplomat Peter Thomson says he speaks for the specialized agencies (at the UN) on oceans issues, and so cannot express his personal views.