United Nations special rapporteur on toxics and human rights urged Japan to reconsider its decision of discharging contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, warning that the move could have devastating long term consequences.
Japan’s decision to dump more than a million tons of treated but still nuclear contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean has sparked an international outcry. A trio of independent human rights experts say the decision could pose a lasting threat to human health and the environment.
Marcos Orellana, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, talked about his biggest concerns during an interview with China Global Television Network (CGTN).
The treated radioactive wastewater sitting in tanks at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex is slated to go into the Pacific Ocean. But without guarantees that the water is safe for release, human rights experts say Japan’s decision is premature, and the risks of doing so are too high.
“There is simply not enough information on the long-term consequences of exposure to humans and the environment for extended periods of time. The planet is facing a triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity and pollution. Humanity is already exceeding the boundaries of what is a safe space, it cannot tolerate additional pollution,” said Orellana.
Orellana is among three independent UN human rights experts calling on Japan to change its mind, echoing pressure from environmental groups and neighboring countries.
“Japan argues that the waters will be treated and that radioactive contaminants will be removed below acceptable international standards. But the treatment process, the advanced liquid processing system, or so-called ALPS, has limitations. So there really is no guarantee that it will succeed,” said Orellana.
The experts are particularly concerned about the possible presence of carbon-14 and tritium in the water used to cool nuclear reactors damaged in the earthquake of 2011.
“ALPS is not designed and does not remove carbon-14 or tritium, which remain in the waters. Furthermore, scientists warn that the risks of tritium have been underestimated and thus existing standards may not offer adequate levels of protection,” said Orellana.
Human rights experts are urging Japan to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and for Japan to consider other viable options.
Orellana said that an EIA would look at alternatives in detail, including the option of storing the waters in tanks until tritium were no longer radioactive.
China has been among the region’s more vocal critics, with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi calling Japan’s decision reckless for not exhausting safe disposal measures and not fully disclosing information.
The U.S., however, backs Japan’s move, saying it had closely coordinated with the International Atomic Energy Agency and was transparent about its decision.
Orellana emphasized that how to deal with the nuclear contaminated water is a planetary boundary issue.
“This is not only a regional or bilateral issue. It’s a global issue because the high seas and the Pacific Ocean are a global commons. The international community as a whole has an interest in the environmental protection of the Marine environment in the high seas,” said Orellana.
If Japan presses ahead with its decision, it will begin discharging the wastewater in two years, a process that could take 40 years to complete.