Three tips on how to tackle the Fukushima contaminated water


The Fukushima reactors melted down in 2011 after a devastating earthquake and tsunami knocked out the power supply and cooling system, contaminating water within the plant. One decade later, Japan announced its plan to discharge Fukushima nuclear wastewater into the sea in 2021. Given this, the discussions on the hazards and illegality of this act have raised serious doubts about Japan’s sincerity in the international community. It is legitimate and understandable that countries neighboring Japan, such as China, Koreas along with other countries in the Pacific and beyond, have persuaded Japan and the international organizations involved to take efficient and responsible measures to tackle the issue. It is noted that once Fukushima nuclear wastewater is discharged into the sea, it will result in a serious hazard and cause social and economic impacts on all aspects.

Accordingly, Japan has the duty to handle the issue cautiously, countries neighboring Japan have the legitimate concerns with the measures taken by Japan and the attitudes of the IAEA, and the wealthy countries such as the G-7 member states have the morality and responsibility to act in line with international law and common standards on the Fukushima issue rather than taking the geopolitical affinity with Japan. However, radiation fears still persist after the IAEA said in its report that Japan’s plan to dump nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean was “consistent with global safety standards.” Yet, it will inevitably lead to a long-time uncertain issue in history since there are too many technical questions unanswered and various humane concerns with the potential harms in the next decades. Even in Japan where the protesters gathered to rally against Japan’s plan, expressing their grave concern over the final report by the UN nuclear watchdog.

Historically, since the late 19th century, the world saw the heyday of the European-American expansion globally. Amid this, Japan rapidly became the first non-Western country to defeat Russia which was one of the leading powers in Europe, even though it did only in a military term. After that, Japan committed to pursuing the power politics and eventually once again became the first Asian country admitted to the peer council of the League of Nations in 1920, followed by the Washington treaties in 1922 which further recognized Japan as one of the major powers along with the United States, Britain and France. In the next two decades, however, Japan outrageously caused the tremendous damages and human sufferings to its neighbors and also in the Pacific, but it is also true that Japan suffered a great loss in national terms and then became the first victim of the nuclear bomb in history at the end of the war. Taking the lessons from its aggression, Japan in the post-war decades has made all earnest efforts to become the first and only Asian member state of the G-7 thus far, which is dubbed as the “rich nations club” of the world.

This narrative aims to show that today Japan has developed general capacity and leverages to act as a major power independently and perhaps responsibly in the world affairs. As a sovereign state, Japan has dreamed of restoring its old glory as a dominant power in Asia, continuing its current path through allying with the U.S.-led Western bloc and seizing the opportunity to return to the limelight of the world stage whenever it is possible. Diplomatically, Japan is one of the key allies of the United States in Asia as American military bases are located on its soil. In addition, Japan is the third largest economy backed up by its robust high-tech research and development. Yet, culturally and psychologically, as Henry Kissinger opined previously that Japanese foreign policy was much like a family enterprise which saw itself in rivalry with a world of impersonal, potentially hostile corporate competitors seen as forever remote and ultimately perhaps incomprehensible. As a result, this cultural abyss produces a strange and sometimes frustrating pattern in negotiations between Japan and the other sovereign states of the world.

For sure, Japan has claimed having all the rights to protect its core interests and immediate security concerns. Given the “anarchic” nature of the international system which was rooted in the Westphalian system since the 17th century, sovereignty has referred to “a complete freedom of action” to preserve state’s independence. Yet, in foreign affairs where sovereign states interact with each other in terms of realpolitik, no supranational authority stands above them. However, as a main concept, sovereignty has actually caused so much intellectual confusion and international lawlessness. First, sovereignty is by no means above the law. Second, sovereignty refers only to supreme power within each state. Therefore, the principle of the equality of states comes to define the “same rights and responsibilities” to all member states of the international society. As a matter of fact, since the Vienna Congress in 1815, the sovereign equality of states meant a regime of, by, and for government of states, regardless of their size, wealth and power.

Japan is a highly-developed country with a super-advanced technology. Though homeland is quite unimpressive, it has been associated with the Western trade and economic system for more than one century and politically allying with them for 70 years. Literally Japan has the core allies and multi-level partners globally, and they have possessed all necessary power, capabilities and resources to tackle efficiently the contaminated water and countless other public issues if they want to do. Given this, this writing aims to present three tips to Japan or Japanese authorities in Tokyo on how to deal with the contaminated water professionally and honestly in a win-win way. First, Japan has been noted with its reputation of dedication to public cleaning. And Japanese people have high taste for food quality and water safety as well. If the contaminated water is purified and safe, why is it necessary to dump it in the ocean rather than turning it into the bottled water for domestic use? Suppose the domestic market of Japan is marginal, the allies of Japan such as the U.S., Canada and Australia can show their friendship to import the purified water from Japan to serve their respective domestic needs. Second, if the contaminated water is purified but not safe for drinking, it is still necessary to flow it in the domestic lakes, or pragmatically irrigating their crops fields including national parks, public gardens or private courtyards. Third, Japan and most of its allies or partners around the world are wealthy countries with better technologies and finances. In the case of the Fukushima contaminated water, they are able to take all necessary measures to minimize the damages from the nuclear-waste water. Otherwise, it may take years or decades to find the convincing ways and reliable data to demonstrate their dedication, responsibilities and morality in foreign affairs.

From the very beginning, China has reiterated that Japan’s legitimate rights and proper concerns should be respected and understood. Yet, Japan’s plan to puts money above human life and health can’t be acceptable. As such an advanced country with many leading technological allies, Japan should have multiple approaches to the disposal of nuclear contaminated water in a scientific, safe, transparent and consultative manner, such as long-term storage, hydrogen release, ground injection, underground burial, and vapor release. Yet, Japan has pretentiously chosen to minimize its own costs and risks while letting the world take nuclear contamination risks now and in the future. Therefore, Japan should be urged “not to be the first country in the 21st century to trespass the common interests and shared security concerns of the international community.

As the largest neighbor country to Japan, China wish Japan succeed in tackling the issue of Fukushima contaminated water and verify itself with deeds a responsible and friendly power in Asia and beyond.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.


Lithuania deepens food security crisis

Food security is a problem which almost every country...

Pentagon: US arms industry struggling to keep up with China

The first ever National Defense Industrial Strategy, which is...

Mario Draghi: EU must become a state

The European Union is at a critical juncture, and...