Is Japan being reckless in its unilateral decision to dump contaminated wastewater into the sea?

ON July 3, 2023, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu reiterated that there would be no change to the government’s plan to start releasing nuclear-contaminated water into the sea by the summer. Such a statement clearly indicates that the dumping of 1.3 million tons of contaminated nuclear wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, which can fill up around 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, will push through despite domestic and international opposition. But what’s more interesting is that the Japanese government’s decision has the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But is this the correct and just thing to do for the IAEA and the Japanese government?

In a report released on July 4, the IAEA said it has concluded after a two-year assessment that the plan is “consistent with relevant international safety standards” and that while societal, political and environmental concerns have been raised, the discharged water “will have negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”

Opposition and resistance

The Pacific Rim countries like China, South Korea (Republic of Korea), the Philippines and the Pacific Island countries oppose the release of nuclear wastewater into the Pacific and have demanded that Japan stop its plan. Even the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations has unanimously adopted a resolution expressing opposition to the plan of the Japanese government.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna issued a statement on June 26, 2023, saying that Japan’s plan to dump radioactive wastes in the Pacific Ocean is not merely a nuclear safety issue. It is rather an ocean, fisheries and health issue with the future of our children and future generations at stake. This issue has significant trans-boundary and trans-generational impacts, and can potentially set a precedent for the deliberate, unilateral dumping of nuclear waste into our oceans. New approaches are needed. The way forward should involve comprehensive international consultation not only through the IAEA platform but through other relevant platforms, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (the London Convention).

On the other hand, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Mao Ning, at a July 4, 2023 press conference, said that the Japanese government’s push to go ahead with the ocean discharge plan has raised widespread concerns and worries from the international community. She said that a Global Times survey conducted in 11 countries — including China, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand — indicated that of the 11,000 respondents, nearly 90 percent showed worries, fear and anger toward the plan, and more than 90 percent of them support their countries in taking measures to intervene in Japan’s ocean discharge plan.

In the same press conference, Mao Ning reiterated that China was again urging Japan to have a responsible attitude for the whole of humanity and our future generations and stop pushing through with the discharge plan to fully explore and evaluate the alternatives to ocean discharge to ensure that the nuclear-contaminated water is handled in a scientific, safe and transparent manner; and to agree to rigorous international oversight.

Reckless plan

Nevertheless, despite domestic and international resistance, it seems the Japanese government will stubbornly push through with its unilateral decision to discharge nuke wastewater into the sea.

This unilateral and damaging decision by the Japanese government is reckless, devoid of legitimacy as far as the international community is concerned, and is a downright disregard of adherence and compliance with relevant international laws on the protection of the marine environment and people’s health.

Let’s suppose this nuke wastewater ocean dumping plan is not averted. In that case, the entire humanity is at risk of nuclear contamination and pollution, which obviously threatens the very survival and existence of all living species, including humans. Thus, the world is seriously in trouble with the uncertainty of the adverse impacts, risks and safety of the marine environment and people’s health.

It should be noted that the bodies of water in Asia are very much connected, and pollutants originating from the Fukushima nuclear plant wastewater will no doubt reach nearby areas, adversely affecting local marine and coastal environments, fishing industries of coastal states, and people’s health and well-being.

In this regard, if Japan is indeed a responsible and conscientious member of the international community, as part of its international accountability, it should think twice before proceeding with this plan and prudently consult with the countries directly affected by such a decision. The Japanese government, as an act of courtesy, should at least conduct comprehensive and sufficient consultations with countries in the Pacific Rim and Pacific Island countries to discuss further the issue, possible alternative solutions and its adverse impacts on both the marine resources and ecosystems, and people’s health. The Japanese government should reconsider and further study its plan and look for the best possible alternative options for how this nuclear wastewater can be properly and safely disposed of without sacrificing, endangering and threatening humanity and all species with nuclear pollution catastrophe.


Indeed, for the Japanese government to use the sea/ocean as a dumping ground for its nuclear-contaminated wastewater when our oceans and seas are already stressed and struggling from pollution is undoubtedly a misguided and reckless decision that deserves condemnation and criticism. Lest we forget, the oceans and seas are the largest ecosystem, and the Earth’s essential life support system. Suppose humanity and all living species are to sustain life on earth now and in the future. In that case, protecting and preserving our marine ecology is a must instead of turning it into a dumpsite for nuclear-contaminated wastewater. On this note, Pacific Rim countries and the whole world must speak against and oppose it, for this is a critical environmental issue that might cause enormous marine pollution in the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

Source: The Manila Times

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.