September 12, 2023
HONG KONG – The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are being sued for discharging nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific but are still planning further releases despite protests from home and abroad.
On Sept 8, 151 individuals, including fishermen from Fukushima Prefecture, filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government and TEPCO, which operates the crippled plant, seeking to halt the release of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.
But on Sept 11, the same day it completed its first phase of discharging nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the sea, TEPCO said it plans to start the second phase likely in October.
The first phase, which began on Aug 24, released approximately 7,800 tons of nuclear-contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima plant into the ocean. There are four releases scheduled for this year, equivalent to approximately 31,200 tons of tank water, Japan’s daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.
The plaintiffs argue that the release of nuclear-contaminated water not only violates fishing rights but also endangers the right of citizens to live peacefully. They contend that the government’s “deceptive” decision to approve the release is illegal and are seeking the revocation of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval for changes to the release plan and pre-operational inspections of the facilities, as well as demanding TEPCO stop the discharge.
According to the plaintiffs’ legal team, this lawsuit challenging the release of nuclear-contaminated water is the first of its kind in Japan. They plan to file an additional lawsuit at the end of October.
“This lawsuit is a clear demonstration of the opposition of many people in Japan to the ocean discharge of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant,” Etsuro Totsuka, a human rights lawyer in Japan, told China Daily.
“In my understanding, it’s not just the 151 individuals, but many more may join as plaintiffs in this lawsuit, indicating the potential for the opposition movement to grow even larger,” said Totsuka.
“This lawsuit has the potential to open a new chapter in pollution lawsuits in Japan. Perhaps not only the people of Japan but also individuals from many countries with interests in the Pacific Ocean may start to consider bringing lawsuits in Japanese courts,” he said.
Pollution lawsuits have been very challenging but victims have continued to fight, even reaching the Supreme Court and achieving victories, Totsuka said. Such movements have raised public awareness about pollution issues and have had a significant impact on Japanese politics, he noted.
Explaining why it is necessary to go to court, Tsuguo Hirota, a co-representative of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said neither the Japanese government’s nor TEPCO’s statements can be trusted. In such a situation, there is no way for the citizens and fishermen of Fukushima to maintain a healthy life except by standing up in court.
The lawyers told a news briefing on Aug 23 that the government’s explanation that ocean discharge is necessary for Fukushima’s recovery is deceptive. There is no immediate need to remove the tanks as there are many locations on and near the premises, including the planned construction site for Units 7 and 8, where tanks can be installed.
In addition to ocean discharge, alternative solutions such as expanding large tanks or solidifying contaminated water with mortar were proposed but not adequately considered, they said.
The Japanese government has intentionally used “treated water” in describing the release, instead of nuclear-contaminated wastewater. Experts clarified that the Fukushima water used at core nuclear parts may contain many kinds of nuclides beyond the tritium that the government admits to.
“There has been no deliberate discharge of radioactive waste into the sea in the past. Even if it is diluted, the total amount of radioactive substances remains the same. So-called treated water contains not only tritium but also cesium-134, cesium-137, strontium-90, iodine-129, carbon-14 and more. Their health effects have not been properly assessed, and their safety has not been confirmed,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyers in their statement.
Even if the harm caused by the discharge of contaminated water cannot be conclusively predicted in advance, the approach of releasing it into the ocean, especially when there are alternatives available, goes against the precautionary principle listed in the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, said Yuichi Kaido, a co-representative of the plaintiffs’ legal team and a lawyer at the Tokyo-Kyodo Law Office.
He said the Japanese government’s actions are not aligned with the rights of fishermen to engage in their livelihoods, which infringes upon their personal rights and threatens their peaceful lives.
Local fishermen saw a reduction in seafood prices in Miyagi Prefecture in anticipation of the ocean discharge. What fishermen want is to see the smiling faces of consumers who enjoy their products, the Weekly Women magazine reported.
This demonstrates that the government’s planned ocean discharge is not only affecting the rights related to fishing for fishermen and fisheries-related individuals but is fundamentally undermining their other rights, Kaido said.
It is strongly recommended to take fundamental measures to prevent further generation of contaminated water, such as the construction of impermeable walls, he said.
For the already generated contaminated water, long-term on-land storage should be performed, allowing for radioactive decay, and sincere consideration should be given to environmentally less burdensome disposal methods like mortar solidification, Kaido said.
Additionally, during this period, further technology should be developed to remove radioactive substances not removed by the existing treatment equipment, he added.
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