Japan must work with the Pacific Ocean to find a solution to the Fukushima water leak – otherwise we will be in for a disaster | Henry Bona

aver the last 20 months, Pacific Islands Forum PIF members have engaged in dialogue with the Government of Japan regarding its proposed plans to release more than 1 million tons of polluted wastewater into the Pacific Ocean as announced in April 2021.

I was encouraged by the very strong stance taken by forum members from the beginning, ie Japan We must cease any such release until we are certain of the environmental and human health implications of this proposal, and in particular the recognition that the majority of our Pacific peoples are coastal peoples, and that the ocean continues to be an integral part of those peoples. the living.

We have taken important steps to work with Japan to understand its position and the rationale for its unilateral decision. As a region, we are committed to working with them at a technical level and have engaged an independent panel of five scientific experts in key areas such as nuclear energy and radiation, high energy physics, marine chemistry, biochemistry, marine biology, and oceanography to provide an independent scientific assessment of the impacts of such a launch.

But the discussions that took place last year were not encouraging. We have exposed serious information gaps and significant concerns about the proposed ocean launch. Simply put, more data is needed before any ocean release is allowed. Despite this, Japan is continuing with plans to discharge in the spring of 2023, counting on the next four decades of discharge to find out.

Based on our experience with nuclear contamination, continuing with ocean drainage plans at this time is simply unthinkable and we don’t have time to sit through four decades to “figure it out”.

It is essential that we work together to ensure a common understanding of the full implications of this activity now, for I fear that if left unchecked, the region will once again be heading towards a major nuclear contamination catastrophe at the hands of others. For the sake of present and future generations, now is the time to act towards a full understanding of the impacts of this discharge on the environment and on human health before making any decision. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to work towards a safe and secure future. This is our moral and legal obligation.

Together, we must fulfill the commitments we made through the Treaty of Rarotonga. We are legally obligated to keep the area free of environmental pollution from radioactive and nuclear waste and other radioactive materials, and to uphold legal obligations to prevent ocean dumping and any action to assist or encourage dumping by other nations.

I remember that this conversation is not new. Four decades ago, Forum leaders also urged Japan and other shipping nations to “store or offload their nuclear waste in their countries of origin rather than having it stored or dumped in the Pacific.” Just four years after this policy statement, in 1985, the Forum welcomed the Japanese Prime Minister’s statement that “Japan has no intention of dumping radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean in disregard of the concerns expressed by the communities of the region.”

The decision on any launch into the ocean is not and should not be simply an internal matter for Japan, but rather a global and transnational issue that should give rise to the need to examine the issue in the context of obligations under international law. Choosing and adopting the appropriate path in terms of international governance is essential, and we must follow all possible avenues including the mechanisms available under international law.

We must take the time to examine whether current international safety standards are sufficient to deal with the unprecedented Fukushima Daiichi situation.

Indeed, the unprecedented nature of this case is of great concern. How we, as a global community, deal with this will set a precedent for future actions and responses. This is especially important given the climate crisis and the increasing intensity and scale of natural disasters, which pose significant safety challenges for nuclear power plants and infrastructure around the world.

Alternative options include safe storage, radioactive decay, bioremediation, and the use of treated water to make concrete for special applications.

We have a golden opportunity to be proactive and get it right without waiting for four decades of dumping to unfold. It would be unreasonable for us as a region to once again allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security.

I’m not asking us to stop implementation plans. I am asking us to take the time and work together to ensure scientific rigor in order to obtain the necessary safety assurances for people’s health and proper stewardship of the environment. I ask today, what our people in the Pacific did not have the opportunity to ask decades ago when our region and ocean were designated as a nuclear test area. I ask that we take the time to fully consider the implications of these actions for our region before choosing the course of action that is best for all.

Don’t ignore us. work with us Our collective future and the future of our future generations depends on it.

Henry Bona is Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum

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