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Environment Vs Geopolitics: American Choice in East Asia

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

by Vijay Kumar

Fukushima Nuclear Plant - DW

After mulling for years, Japan has finally decided to release over 1 million tonnes of contaminated water from its destroyed Fukushima Nuclear Plant ignoring concerns from neighbouring states. Fukushima Nuclear Power plant was destroyed during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Reactor buildings of the Fukushima Power Plant were damaged after the earthquake and tsunami which caused hydrogen explosions. The tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors, three of which melted down. A millions tonne of water were used to cool down the melted reactors.

At present contaminated water is under treatment which removes most of the radioactive elements from water waste, still, some toxic elements remain in water like tritium. These waters are stored in huge tanks at Tokyo Electric Power Company. It is estimated that Tokyo Electric Power Company’s storage will be out of space by 2022.

Neighbouring countries like South Korea, China, the Philippines, and others expressed their concerns. South Korea, summoned Japan’s Ambassador to South Korea in protest of the decision. South Korea issued a statement as well -:

“Our government expresses strong regret over the decision and will take all necessary steps with the safety of our citizens as the top priority. The decision can never be accepted and would not only cause danger to the safety and maritime environment of neighbouring countries; it was also made unilaterally without sufficient consultations with our country, which is the closest neighbour to Japan”.

Chinese foreign ministry reacted strongly and expressed their concern in a statement -:

“Despite doubts and opposition from home and abroad, Japan has unilaterally decided to release the Fukushima nuclear wastewater into the sea before exhausting all safe ways of disposal and without fully consulting with neighbouring countries and the international community. This action is extremely irresponsible, and will seriously damage international public health and safety, and the vital interests of people in neighbouring countries”.

The Japanese fishing industry has also raised concern that this may impact negatively its market as customers may refuse to buy its product. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the fishing industry was hit extremely hard, with many countries banning the import of seafood caught off Japan's north-eastern coast. Environmental groups like, Greenpeace has been opposing this for a long. The NGO in a statement said Japan's plans to release the water proved that the government “once again failed the people of Fukushima”.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga justified saying that dumping treated water containing radioactive substances into the ocean is ‘realistic and unavoidable’ and there is no time to delay the reconstruction of Fukushima. The International Atomic Energy Agency has made a statement in support of Japan in carrying out the disposal. IAEA director Rafael Mariano Grossi welcomed Japan’s decision in a video. He added that the IAEA will provide full technical support for the safe implementation of the plans.

The United States has supported the decision to discharge water waste in the Pacific Ocean, Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken in a tweet said, “We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site. We look forward to the Government of Japan's continued coordination with the IAEA”.

Despite having concern and criticism from many countries and NGOs, American support has again raised the debate of whether the United States is serious about environmental protection. The United States is very critical of developing countries like India and China in their fight against climate change. America's duel stand on environmental protection has been exposed again. It is empirically proven that ‘Tritium’ is hazardous for health and this ‘Tritium’ will remain in water waste even after treatment hence it will put the health of people at risk. It will not be wrong to say that in the end national interest is paramount, ethics or morality has little space in international politics.

About the Author

Vijay Kumar is Asst. Professor in the Department of Political Science, DCAC College, DU. He is also a research scholar at the US Centre, School of International Studies, JNU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.

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