Japan’s nuclear waste dump | Pacific nations on China’s side over Japan issue
14 September, 2023, 7:00 pm
Former intelligence and defence policy analyst Paul Buchanan says some Pacific Island nations are “acting to stay in line with China” over Japan’s Fukushima treated nuclear wastewater release.
Buchanan told RNZ Pacific this is “(to) keep that pipeline open to them when it comes to developmental assistance”.
As China continues to ban all seafood from Japan, the Fukushima issue has “become more of a geopolitical and diplomatic problem than a scientific one”, he said.
The release started on August 24 and is expected to last decades.
The nuclear wastewater is treated to remove harmful radionuclides, then diluted before being released off the coast of Japan in an effort to decommission the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
Several Pacific nations have voiced their concerns.
Buchanan, who is the director of 36th Parallel Assessments (NZ), put much of the opposition from the region down to “ignorance” or acting to “stay in line with China”.
“The MSG, as well as the Pacific Island Forum, have one eye on China and the other eye on Japan,” he said.
In a speech in June, PIF Secretary General Henry Puna acknowledged the elevation of securitydriven partnerships and development cooperation with the region.
An emphasis on regionalism and strengthening strategic leverage as a Pacific collective has been drummed home at most PIF events.
On the Fukushima issue, Puna said Pacific leaders are committed to holding Japan “fully accountable” should anything go wrong.
This week’s Forum Foreign Ministers meeting is set to be an opportunity for members to discuss a collective position, a Pacific Island’s Forum Secretariat spokesperson said.
But the region is very much still divided on the matter.
No cause for concern’ The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) – made up of Fiji, the FLNKS of New Caledonia, Papua New guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – opposed Japan’s release into the Pacific Ocean, though not all leaders of the sub-regional grouping have the same view on the issue.
Fiji’s leader Sitiveni Rabuka continues to maintain his position, saying the science stacks up. The Pacific and its people “have been victims of false assurances”, MSG Secretariat directorgeneral Leonard Louma said recently.
“The scourge of the health effects, of oncetouted negligible effects of nuclear activities, continue to beset us to this day,” Louma said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s comprehensive report on Japan’s plan said it would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment. Japan maintains the release is safe.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company said results from daily testing show radionuclide levels are below limits set by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority. Buchanan agrees there is a “very reasonable” anti-nuclear sentiment.
“That goes back to the French testing days, the American testing days and the destruction that they wrought on small island states,” he said.
“That all is true and it is reasonable. But here’s where they run afoul of science. The science simply points out…there is no cause for concern in the South Pacific.” Buchanan said no issues of sovereignty are going to accrue, as Japan is discharging the water into its own coastal waters.
He said in doing that Japan was not breaching any international treaties either.
“It’s easy to sit in the South Pacific and criticise Japan because there will be no harm accrued because of that,” Buchanan said.
Condemning Japan’s plan is an easy way out for the MSG, “to appear to be on the side of China”, he said.
‘Generalised anti-nuclear sentiment’ It could take around ten years for the tritiated water to reach any Pacific Island, if at all, according to ocean current projections.
But even then, the tritium levels will be so low it will not be able to be measured, TEPCO told RNZ. Buchanan said activists and governments right across the Pacific seem to be allowing “generalised anti-nuclear sentiment” to take control over their rational selves.
He said this simply is not an abuse of nuclear privilege and there is no cause for concern in the South Pacific.
“Unfortunately, I would say that this is born more of ignorance, than of rational concerns about the spillover effects of this treated water, and may actually hang on to lingering historical distress of the Japanese,” Buchanan said.
“The Japanese have not ingratiated themselves to people with their whaling activities.
“And so you have a combination of anti- Japan sentiment with anti-nuclear sentiment, all against the backdrop of Japan’s behaviour in World War II, up to the present day when it comes to issues like whaling.”
‘Japan on horns of a dilemma’ With arguments for and against strewn across the backdrop of a chequered colonial and warring past, Buchanan wants people to put their faith in the experts at the IAEA, UN and the Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority.
“That might help encourage non-experts in the world to be aware of their bias and ignorance.”
He said Japan has science on its side, but “for a variety of reasons, environmental and then strictly strategic if you will”, there are significant numbers of people that oppose the release.
“No amount of science is going to convince them otherwise,” he said.
“Japan is, basically, on the horns of a dilemma.”
• LYDIA LEWIS is an RNZ Pacific journalist. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. She can be contacted via lydia.lewis@rnz. co.nz