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PIF could sideline Japan over nuclear waste plan

Thursday 12 January 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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PIF could sideline Japan  over nuclear waste plan
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna. 23011105

Japan is at risk of losing its status as a Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partner over Tokyo’s nuclear waste dumping plan.

Japan is due to start dumping one million tonnes of nuclear waste from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean in only a few months.

According to Japan’s government, the wastewater is to be treated by an Advanced Liquid Processing System, which will remove nuclides from the water.

It says the water to be discharged into the ocean is not contaminated.

Last year, the Pacific Islands Forum demanded Japan share pivotal information about the plan.

Secretary General Henry Puna said this month that, in order to keep its status, Japan needs to ramp up communication and transparency over the issue.

The message to Japan is, “hey look, has there been a change in your attitude to the Pacific?” he told RNZ Pacific.

“It’s a bit daunting, talking to a big sovereign country like Japan, and also a good, long-standing friend of the Pacific,” Puna said.

The “preferred course of action” is to engage in a “friendly manner” with Japan.

“We’re long-standing friends, and Japan is a very important partner for us in the Pacific,” he said.

“This issue strikes at the very heart of our being as Pacific people. We will not let it go.

“In fact, we are very serious and we will take all options to get Japan to at least cooperate with us by releasing the information that our technical experts are asking of them.

"Because all we want is to be in a position where our experts can say, ‘okay, look, the release is harmless, you can go ahead’, or ‘there are some issues that we need further discussion and further scientific research with Japan’,” he said.

Anger at lack of cooperation

“They’re breaking the commitment that their Prime Minister and our leaders have arrived at when we had our high level summit in 2021,” Puna said.

“It was agreed during that summit that we would have access to all independent scientific and verifiable scientific evidence before this discharge can take place.

“So far, unfortunately, Japan has not been cooperating,” Puna said.

His last conversation with Tokyo was just before Christmas with their ambassador in Suva.

“Japan has come back since then, to indicate that they are amenable to a meeting with our panel of experts in Tokyo sometime early next month.

“But it's important for us to avoid the frustrations that have been happening to date.

“I have made it clear to Japan that we will not agree to such a meeting unless Japan gives us an undertaking now or before the meeting that they will provide all information that our experts will request of them and provide them in a timely manner because time is of the essence,” Puna said.

What is a ‘Forum Dialogue Partner’?

There are 21 partners, with Japan joining in 1989.

The purpose of the Forum Dialogue Partner mechanism (formally known as the Post Forum Dialogue mechanism), established by Forum Leaders in 1989, is to invite selected countries outside of the Pacific Islands region with significant cooperation and engagement and political or economic interests, to participate in a dialogue with Forum Leaders, according to the Forum website https://www.forumsec.org/dialogue-partners/.

Other partners include the United States, China, the UK, France, and the European Union.

There are six criteria which must be met to maintain the status.

When questioned on whether or not the government of Japan meets all of them, Puna provided some insight into where Forum leaders are sitting.

Q. Would you say Japan's actions so far throughout this nuclear issue, and the conversations that have been happening, show that they have dedicated support for the sustainable and resilient development of the Pacific region?

A. One could say that what they're proposing to do is at total odds with that commitment, or undertaking.

Q. Is Japan's position on the release date of treated nuclear waste a shared interest and common position that supports foreign priorities?

A. You're asking some very difficult questions. That really is a decision that our leaders take, we can only advise leaders, but any ultimate decision is to be made at the leaders level.

Q. Is Japan on the brink of being pushed off the table?

A. Of course, you know, that is an option that's open to the leaders to take. It has happened before, for example, France was continuing with their nuclear testing in Mururoa atoll, they were actually suspended as dialogue partners. But let me emphasise again, that that is a decision that only our leaders can take.

Q. What must Japan do to keep their seat, to give the leaders confidence?

A. This is a good test of Japan's sincerity and commitment to the Pacific. We're not stopping, we're not asking for the discharge not to take place. All we're asking is for it to be deferred until such time as all relevant information and data is provided to our panel of experts. So they can be in a position to advise our leaders that the discharge is safe or not safe. And if it's not safe, then also to pull it out and identify areas where it's not safe, so that we can work with Japan, you know, to resolve those issues.

Q. Is this issue going to be raised at the next Pacific Islands Forum meeting?

A. Well, depending on how it plays out over the next couple of months, it will definitely be raised.

Tokyo Electric Power Company has confirmed it will speak with RNZ Pacific on January 18.