Godzilla in the water – uncontrollable, unpredictable, dangerous
Reality Check

Editor's note: Godzilla is a fictional monster. But Japan's discharge of nuclear contaminated water is a real threat. In this episode of Reality Check, we look at Japan's discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean and breaks down the danger it poses. 

Hey guys, welcome to Reality Check, I'm Huang Jiyuan.

This is Godzilla, a fictional monster, perhaps the world's most famous one. It was born from Japan's experience with the two nuclear bombs. But, Japan might just have created a real one.

Starting August 24, Japan began discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. At least for the next thirty years, we are going to see nuclear materials pouring into the sea. Already, there are uproars around the world. In Japan, people from 375 civil groups gathered in Fukushima's Iwaki city to demand an immediate stop to releasing the water. In South Korea, around 5,000 protesters gathered in Seoul to criticize the South Korean government's endorsement of the release plan. Hundreds of people, including the former Fijian Prime Minister, marched in the Fijian capital to protest against the discharge. 

Germany's Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection Steffi Lemke said that she "cannot welcome the release of the treated water." Thailand's Department of Fisheries has intensified its scrutiny of seafood products imported from Japan. And China imposed a total ban on the aquatic products from Japan. It will also inspect 100 percent of Japanese food exported to China.

One thing we have to recognize is that the science on this is hard and highly contentious. Many are using the IAEA’s report as the basis to justify the discharge. However, it is exactly the fact that there's no definitive answer that raises concerns. These are simulations of the diffusion.

You can see that it doesn't take a long time for the water or the material to cover the vast majority of space between Asia and North America. The Asia-Pacific region in total is the world’s largest producer of fish. It accounts for more than 50 percent of the world's catch of marine and river fish and 89 percent of global aquaculture. Eight of the top ten aquaculture-producing economies are in this region. And the western and central part of the Pacific Ocean specifically accounts for over 50 percent of global tuna catch. 

For a country that has intimate experience with the effects of nuclear materials, Japan should be well aware that its long-term ramifications are unpredictable, especially when it interacts with living organisms. Angelika Claussen, Vice President IPPNW Europe, said that "I think the Fukushima water release, it was the contaminated water, it's still contaminated. It should not be released into the Pacific. Because there, it will cause harm to the food chain." 

Sergey Mukhametov, senior specialist of the Department of Oceanology of the Geographical Faculty of Lomonosov Moscow State University, stated that "furthermore, what's being discharged is not ordinary freshwater, although it mixes with seawater, it's still lighter than seawater, which means it will float on the ocean's surface. Being on the surface, nuclear-contaminated water will evaporate. This point is rarely mentioned. The tritium-containing water evaporates, it runs into the rain and falls over Japan, South Korea, China and the Far East countries. It will enter river systems and lakes, which are sources of our drinking water."

Even in Japan, people find the government's rationale lacking. More than 80 percent of the Japanese public said the government's explanation regarding the matter is "insufficient." So, Japan is, in essence, releasing an uncontrollable, unpredictable, and dangerous thing into the world's largest ocean without knowing what could happen.

Tilman Ruffti, the Immediate past Co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said in an interview with Channel News Asia that "this is really a 19th century sort of cheap-and-dirty out-of-jurisdiction, out-of-sight, out-of-mind, dilution-is-the-solution-to-pollution kind of approach. And arguably I think this is also in contravention of Japan's legal obligation under the London Convention against dumping of wastes in the marine environment and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. All of which together quite explicitly prohibit dumping into the marine environment of land-based sources of pollution and, specifically, prohibiting the discharge of radioactive materials into the oceans."

If you break a law, you pay a price for it. In Japan, residents of Fukushima, Miyagi and Ibaraki prefectures and fishery workers are suing the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, demanding the ceasing of contaminated water's release into the sea. According to Kyodo News, a Japanese civic group has already submitted a letter to the local authority, accusing Japanese prime minister and the executive president of Tokyo Electric Power Company. In the letter, they are saying that other than tritium, there are other radioactive matters that can't be cleaned up. And that'd cause harm to people's health, especially those consuming aquatic products

Japan should know that it's not just the Japanese residents that will take action. Countries affected by the water release all have the obligation to stop damaging materials from harming their citizens. People working in tourism industry, catering industry, fishery and anything aquaculture-related have the obligation to seek reparation for the chaos caused by Japan's actions.

And it is all of these people's right to defend themselves, even against Godzilla – fictional or not.

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