Working Paper on the Disposal of Nuclear Contaminated Water of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station submitted by China

(Submit to the First Preparatory Committee for the Eleventh Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)
2023-08-09 04:34

Peaceful uses of nuclear energy is the inalienable right of the States parties to the NPT. For advancing the implementation of the Global Development Initiative (GDI) put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping, China attaches great importance to international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and shares its technology and experience with other countries in order to contribute to the promotion of nuclear energy for the benefit of the people of all countries and the sustainable development of nuclear energy.

Nuclear safety is the lifeline of the development of nuclear power and the application of nuclear technologies, which not only has a bearing on the economic development and social stability of the countries concerned, but also may bring about serious regional and global impacts. All countries should strictly implement their national responsibilities for nuclear safety, so as to peacefully use the nuclear energy for the building of a community of life for mankind and nature, and not at the expense of the natural environment and human health.

The disposal of nuclear contaminated water from Fukushima concerning the global marine environment and public health. There is no precedent of artificially discharging nuclear contaminated water into the ocean and no internationally recognized disposal standards. The international community should attach great importance to Japan’s ocean discharge of the nuclear contaminated water and urge Japan to dispose of the nuclear contaminated water in a responsible manner.

1. Japan fails to provide the justification and legitimacy of the ocean discharge plan. Ocean discharge is not the only way to dispose of the nuclear contaminated water of Fukushima. Japan had discussed five ways to dispose of the nuclear contaminated water, namely injection into the ground, discharge into the ocean, vapor release, release as hydrogen gas into the atmosphere, and underground burial. Many experts have also suggested other options for proper disposal, such as building new storage tanks for long-term storage, cement curing, etc. However, Japan did not conduct thorough study of all disposal options and insist on choosing ocean discharge with the least economic cost, thus transferring the risk of nuclear contamination to the whole world. Justification is one of the three fundamental principles of radiation protection which requires that the introduction of a new source of radiation, or any actions to reduce radiation exposure, have a net overall benefit. Japan’s unilateral decision of ocean discharge violates the principle of justification.

2. Japan fails to prove the long-term effectiveness and reliability of the purification equipment for treating the nuclear contaminated water. Judging from the past operation, Japan’s ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) cannot effectively remove radionuclides such as tritium and carbon-14, and whether the ALPS can effectively remove other radionuclides is subject to further tests and verification. According to the data released by Japan, nearly 70 percent of the nuclear contaminated water treated by ALPS still fails to meet the discharge standard and needs to be purified again. In the subsequent long-term operation process, the effectiveness and reliability of ALPS may further weakened with the aging of the equipment. Besides the more than 1.3 million tons of nuclear contaminated water to be discharged, the Fukushima nuclear power plant will produce a large amount of nuclear contaminated water in the future. It is doubtful whether the ALPS can effectively treat such huge amount of nuclear contaminated water with complex compositions and be reliable in the long term.

3. Japan fails to prove the authenticity and accuracy of the data on nuclear contaminated water. TEPCO has repeatedly concealed and falsified nuclear contaminated water related data in recent years. The IAEA conducted its review and assessment solely based on the data and information provided by Japan, and carried out inter-laboratory comparative analyses of only a small number of nuclear contaminated water samples collected by Japan. So even if the Agency's review and assessment concludes that the discharge meets the safety standards, the conclusion is not sufficiently persuasive when the authenticity of the data and the accuracy of the information have yet to be verified, and the representativeness and independence of sampling are seriously insufficient. 

4. Japan fails to prove that the discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the sea is not harmful to marine environment and public health. The Fukushima nuclear contaminated water contains more than 60 radionuclides, many of which do not yet have effective treatment technologies, and some of the long-lived nuclides may spread with ocean currents, bring uncertain impact on the ecological balance of the sea areas of the neighboring countries and on the marine environment. It may also form a bio-concentration effect, and pose potential risks to food safety and human health, through the migration of marine organisms and the food chain. In the absence of effective measures to ensure that Japan will fulfill its commitments, it is even more difficult to rule out the long-term impact of the ocean discharge on the marine environment and human health. If the so-called "treated-water" is really safe and harmless, why does Japan not dispose of it within its own territory or use it for industrial and agricultural purposes?

5. Japan fails to fulfill its due international obligations. According to general international law and the provisions of UNCLOS(United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), Japan has the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. When disposing of the nuclear contaminated water, Japan shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under its jurisdiction or control are so conducted as not to cause damage by pollution to other States and their environment, and that pollution caused does not spread beyond the areas where Japan exercises sovereign rights. Japan also has the obligation to take all possible steps to prevent environmental pollution, to inform and fully consult with countries that may be affected, to assess and monitor the environmental impact, to ensure information transparency, and to carry out international cooperation. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (the London Convention) prohibits the dumping of radioactive wastes into the sea by means of man-made structures at sea. Japan's discharging of nuclear contaminated water into the sea by means of submarine pipelines is in violation of the relevant provisions of the London Convention.

6. Japan fails to demonstrate the perfection of the monitoring program. Japan's current arrangements for monitoring the discharge of nuclear contaminated water are not sufficient enough to judge whether the discharge is qualified at the first time, which may result in the discharge of substandard nuclear contaminated water into the sea. China maintains that the IAEA should take the lead in establishing an independent and effective long-term international monitoring mechanism with the full participation of third-party laboratories of Japan’s neighboring countries as soon as possible, and Japan must fully cooperate with the international mechanism for long-term monitoring and the following review and assessment, and continue to carry out the long-term reliability monitoring of the ALPS, the monitoring of nuclear contaminated water and environments, and the assessment of the radioactive impact of environments, and disclose credible data and information to concerning parties like neighbouring countries in a prompt and transparent manner. Japan must not start discharging until the long-term monitoring mechanism is established, and must stop discharging water once anomalies are detected in the data on the discharge of nuclear contaminated water.

7. Japan should not confuse the concept of nuclear contaminated water with the wastewater from the normal operation of nuclear power plants. The two are completely different and cannot be compared with. Firstly, the sources are different. Secondly, the types of radionuclides are different. Thirdly, the difficulty of treatment varies. The Fukushima nuclear contaminated water comes from the water injected to the molten core after the accident and the groundwater and rainwater seeping into the reactor, which contains various radionuclides. In contrast, the wastewater generated from the normal operation of nuclear power plants mainly comes from process drainage, surface drainage, etc, which is discharged in an organized manner and in strict compliance with the internationally accepted standards, using the best feasible technology for treatment, and under strict monitoring. The amount of the radionuclides is far lower than the stipulated control value. What China opposes is the discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the sea, never the discharge of wastewater from the normal operation of nuclear power plants.

8. Japan should not make use of IAEA’s comprehensive assessment report on the disposal of Fukushima nuclear contaminated water as “shield” or “greenlight” for the ocean discharge plan. The Government of Japan requested the Agency to conduct the review only after it had unilaterally made its decision on ocean discharge. The Agency's Technical Group was only authorized to review the ocean discharge plan, and did not examine the legitimacy of the Japan’s discharge plan or assess the effectiveness and long-term reliability of the purification devices, thus its conclusions were limited, and could not address the concerns of the international community.

9. In order to protect the only planet on which humanity depends and human life and health, Japan should fully respond to the concerns of China and the international community, and dispose of the nuclear contaminated water in a responsible manner in line with its obligations under international law, stop pushing through the discharge plan, fully consulted with stakeholders including neighbouring countries, make sure to handle the nuclear contaminated water in a science-based, safe and transparent way, and subject itself to rigorous international oversight.