Expert regrets IAEA's 'hasty' report on radioactive Fukushima water release
Aerial view of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, May 31, 2023. /CFP
Aerial view of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, May 31, 2023. /CFP

Aerial view of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, May 31, 2023. /CFP

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on July 4 released a comprehensive assessment report on the Japanese government's plan to release radioactive water, treated by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), into the Pacific Ocean.

Tokyo has announced that it will proceed with this plan as early as August despite overwhelming concerns among environmentalists, scientists and neighboring countries.

Liu Senlin, researcher with the China Institute of Atomic Energy who participated in the IAEA's technical working group for the assessment, expressed disappointment with the "hasty" report.

Liu believes that the IAEA did not adequately consult external experts before releasing the report, adding that the input from experts was limited and only used for reference.

The expert pointed out that the IAEA conducted the review and assessment at the request of the Japanese government, which unilaterally made the decision to release the contaminated water into the ocean.

Liu said that the IAEA's assessment focuses solely on Japan's plan for the discharge of treated nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, the Japanese government's regulatory procedures and activities, and whether Tokyo Electric Power Company's implementation of the program complies with IAEA safety standards. He added that it does not consider alternative disposal options or the effectiveness and long-term reliability of nuclear-contaminated water purification devices.

During the past two years of the assessment mission, the experts of the technical working group have not reached a complete consensus, according to Liu.

The expert emphasized that while the IAEA's review and assessment have raised the technical threshold and regulatory requirements of Japan's plan, there are significant limitations.

He said that Japan has not addressed the international community's concerns regarding the legitimacy of its discharging plan and has not fully discussed and made appropriate arrangements for follow-up review and assessment tasks, as well as long-term monitoring arrangements.

According to Liu, Japan's current predictive assessment focuses solely on radioactive effects and does not conduct a comprehensive assessment. He added that the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water could lead to social, psychological, economic and marine ecological issues.

Liu believes that the report issued by the IAEA does not imply that the agency accepts the legitimacy of Japan's decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. Furthermore, it does not mean that the IAEA approves Japan's discharge plan.

The relevant conclusions only reflect that Japan's current control measures on nuclear-contaminated water generally align with IAEA's safety standards. However, it does not guarantee that Japan will meet the standards in the next 30 years or longer, according to the expert.

Liu pointed out that the report clearly states that the agency will continue to conduct impartial and objective review and assessment, as well as independent sampling monitoring during the implementation phase of Japan's ocean discharge plan.

The expert said that the urgent task for the IAEA is to promote the establishment of an independent and effective long-term international monitoring mechanism promptly. 

This mechanism should carry out effective supervision and continuous monitoring of Japan's control measures and supervision activities regarding the discharge plan, with the aim of enhancing transparency and trust within the international community.

During this process, the IAEA should also consider the reasonable concerns of Japan's neighboring countries and island countries in the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the IAEA should maintain its independence during onsite monitoring and sampling, making judgments based on data and information provided by the Japanese side alone is not advisable, said Liu.

Read more:

Fukushima discharge plan: What impact could the radioactive water have?

Fukushima discharge plan: Is IAEA report a rubber stamp?

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