Nuclear contaminated Water Is a Global Challenge

The major concern from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is the impact of radioactivity on water, land, air and space.

Members of the media and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees wearing protective suits and masks walk past storage tanks for radioactive water in the H4 area at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture in this November 7, 2013 file photo. Japan's government is aiming to restart a nuclear reactor by around June 2015 following a lengthy and politically-sensitive approval process in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, sources familiar with the plans said. To match story JAPAN-NUCLEAR/RESTART REUTERS/Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool/Files (JAPAN - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY MEDIA)

Published Mar 31, 2023


Mammo Muchie

In 1986, the worst and first ever nuclear accident took place at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, which is currently also at war. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster killed many people and destroyed properties. Remarkably in 1986 there was also a great victory in Adwa where the Ethiopian leadership defeated European colonialism and racism.

The second worst accident is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that took place on March 11th, 2011 in Japan. The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) reported that 770 PBq (iodine-131 equivalent) of radioactivity had been released in June 2011 whilst the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) Policy agency reduced it to 570 PBq. It is not easy to know exactly how the radioactive impact on water is managed if the two agencies in Japan release different radioactivity impact reports on water contamination.

The major concern from the nuclear disaster is the impact of radioactivity on water, land, air and space. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste such as uranium mill tailings, reactor fuel, and other radioactive waste.

If these radioactive materials are not managed from the nuclear disaster, the risk to human health can grow exponentially and explosively across the world. The gravity burden of health hazards that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster created through radiation will be like the Covid-19 disaster - the world has not yet been fully informed or entirely realised this yet. If water is infected with quantities of radioactive carbon-diet as well as other radioactive isotopes including strontium-90 and tritium, millions of lives will be affected. Human rights experts have sent messages stating strongly that Japan must not release radioactive contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean in the Pacific region.

They have expressed their anxiety by stating that large amounts of water has seen nuclear contamination since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. They said radiation from Fukushima has even reached the United States in different ways. The first is that air currents carried radiation across the Pacific to the United States.

The second is that radioactive iodine and cesium were detected in air, rainwater, surface water and some food samples collected in California within a few days of the Fukushima disaster.

They said Japan should have collaborated with all the stakeholders in the Pacific region when on April 13th 2021, the decision was made to unilaterally discharge nuclear contaminated water into the ocean. In January 2023, Japan announced that it would release nuclear contaminated water offshore Fukushima this Spring and Summer. The Japanese government declared it would release the wastewater into the ocean after treating it to remove most radioactive elements.

Discharging Fukushima nuclear contaminated water into the ocean should not be Japan’s private matter. Japan will be dumping nuclear contaminated water into the ocean for 30 years. A decade after nuclear contaminated water was released and because of some of the world's strongest ocean currents near Fukushima, radionuclides could spread to the globe. Therefore, discharging nuclear contaminated water into the sea is a major issue concerning the global marine environment and public health. This affects not only Japan's neighbouring countries, but the Pacific island countries and other stakeholders also have expressed serious concerns over Japan's decisions. There is also opposition in Japan.

As everyone knows, South Africa is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres of beautiful coastline that stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. South Africa’s aquaculture accounts for 5% of Africa's total output. Its’ commercial fishing fleet consists of more than 500 vessels of all kinds. About 28,000 people work in the ocean fishing industry. The continuing discharged nuclear contaminated water will reach the eastern Pacific within two to three years and continue westward into the Indian Ocean. Under the influence of the Indian Ocean circulation, it will enter the South African sea in the south west corner of the Indian Ocean. This will be a devastating blow to South Africa’s ocean environment and fishing industry.

Any discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the ocean is shifting the risk to all humanity - something that all the Japan policy makers must acknowledge. Japan has yet to make a scientific and credible statement on key issues such as the legitimacy of the discharge plan and the uncertainty of the environmental impact. In spite of this, Japan is still going ahead with its plan to approve the discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the sea and accelerate preparations for the discharge. Japan has not fulfilled its legal obligations under international law. Under general international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Japan has the obligation to take all measures to avoid environment pollution, to notify and fully consult with potentially affected countries, to assess and monitor environmental impacts, to ensure transparency of information and to carry out international cooperation. Japan should not use any excuse to avoid fulfilling its international obligations.

The international community, including South Africa, should jointly urge Japan to face up to address the legitimate and reasonable concerns of all parties, by faithfully fulfilling its international obligations with the earnest disposal of nuclear contaminated water in an open, transparent, scientific and safe manner, including plans other than sea discharge, and accept strict international supervision. Japan should not start discharging nuclear contaminated water into the sea without consultation with its neighbouring countries, Pacific island countries and other stakeholders and relevant international institutions.

The World health Organization released a statement saying all countries should not worry about the Nuclear disaster. But many countries’ leaders, including the Chinese Ministry of foreign affairs are very concerned about the risk. The best solution is for all to collaborate and manage the challenges to make sure air, land, space and water in all areas are secure as radioactive water waste in one area is also danger to all. What is done cannot be undone. Once discharged, endless hazards can take place. Japan should act with full collaboration to promote the safety, security and peace of all humanity and nature without any exclusion of all the affected partners.

Professor Mammo Muchie is based at the Tshwane University of Technology’s department of management and entrepreneurship.