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Countering Japan's radioactive water dumping plan

By YEN-CHIANG CHANG | China Daily | Updated: 2023-07-29 09:39

Tanks containing water from the disabled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant are seen at the power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, March 8, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Japan has intensified efforts to deal with the global opposition to its decision to discharge the nuclear-contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the sea. These efforts include, but are not limited to, seeking the "approval" of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, some countries including the Pacific island states and the Republic of Korea, and Western scholars that the nuclear-contaminated water is safe enough to be dumped into the sea.

China has been opposing Japan's radioactive water discharge plan since the beginning, because it will harm the marine environment and ecology and affect human health.

But to add more weight to its opposition, China should also conduct research on the effects of nuclear-contaminated water on the marine environment, publish the results, explain the effects of nuclear pollution in the United States and other Western countries in the past, organize activities such as experts' seminars on nuclear pollution, and prepare to take legal action against Japan in international courts.

More important, it should take preemptive measures to cope with the effects of Japan dumping the radioactive water into the sea.

First, China should make efforts to sign bilateral and multilateral agreements with other stakeholders and unite them to jointly counter Japan's plan to release the nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, especially because there are few precedents of the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea effectively addressing environmental pollution, particularly marine pollution.

The importance of holding Japan accountable, if Japan does dump the nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, will be far greater than its immediate impact and will play a key role in building a community with a shared future for the protection of the marine environment and ecology. And the signing of bilateral and multilateral agreements among stakeholders will prevent other countries from following in the footsteps of Japan in similar cases, and strengthen marine environmental laws.

Second, China should cooperate with all stakeholders in preventing Japan from going ahead with its radioactive water discharge plan, initiate a motion in the UN General Assembly, and request the International Court of Justice to provide advisory opinion on Japan's nuclear-contaminated water dumping plan. This will provide authoritative legal support for preventing Japan from dumping the radioactive water into the sea.

Third, China must form a legal team to prepare for litigation or arbitration in the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the World Trade Organization dispute settlement system and/or the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It should also expedite the collection of evidence to hold Japan accountable for its illegal action.

For example, China must thoroughly analyze the fisheries' data, evaluate catch quantity, intensify the monitoring of nuclear-related data in coastal areas, and compare them with other relevant data to collect the evidence to be submitted to international courts or organizations like the UN and the WTO. Simultaneously, it should strengthen the monitoring and supervision of domestic radioactive materials, and restrict the import of seafood from Japan because the radioactive water, if released into the sea, can have a devastating effect on marine life, which in turn can harm human health.

Fourth, Beijing should adopt a unified approach to public communication, and emphasize that nuclear pollution is dangerous for all living creatures. And given the silence of the United States and other Western countries on Japan's arbitrary plan, China needs to unite the voices of scientists, governments and environmental groups opposed to the radioactive water discharge plan, in order to put more pressure on Japan and force it to change its decision.

There is also a need for China to create dedicated websites or online platforms to voice concerns over Japan's unscientific decision, and disseminate relevant information in multiple languages, exposing Japan's unscrupulousness and indifference to the health of the oceans and marine life.

And fifth, China should cultivate more talents in multiple disciplines and encourage them to join international organizations, especially maritime organizations such as the International Maritime Organization and the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and regional fishery organizations, so they can voice the sane and scientific opinions on marine and maritime issues and expose the lies countries like Japan use to protect their narrow self-interests.

The author is a professor at the Law School of Dalian Maritime University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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