Fukushima nuclear plant: Nanaia Mahuta says dumping toxic materials into sea 'of high concern', awaiting briefing on Japan plans

The Greens are opposed to Japan's decision.
The Greens are opposed to Japan's decision. Photo credit: Getty.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is waiting on more detail before expressing New Zealand's position on Japan's plans to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear station into the sea, but is concerned with dumping toxic material generally. 

More than 10 years on from the 2011 earthquake that crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Japanese Government has given the green light to plans to dump more than a million tonnes of water from the station into the ocean. 

The plant's storage capacity will be reached late next year. The water will then be filtered to remove some isotopes, leaving just tritium, a radioactive isotope difficult to separate from water. 

It will next be diluted to bring the tritium levels below regulatory levels before it is pumped into the sea. 

Asked for her thoughts on Japan's plans, Mahuta said: "It would be of concern generally that there is dumping of any toxic materials into the oceans and there are international rules that govern much of that space".

However, she wouldn't say if New Zealand would directly express concerns with Japan.

"I haven't had a briefing on the detail of that matter. But at a general level, I think any toxic waste into the oceans is a matter of high concern."

But the Green Party co-leader James Shaw is clear on his view. He said Japan's plans were of concern and New Zealand should speak out. 

Japan's local fishing industry is also concerned with the proposal, worried about the potential effect on sea life, while Greenpeace has strongly condemned the move. 

"The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes," said Greenpeace campaigner Kazue Suzuki. "It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts."

United Nations’ human rights special rapporteurs last year warned Japan against dumping the water until after the COVID-19 crisis had passed and proper international consultations were held. 

"There will be grave impacts on the livelihood of local Japanese fisher folk, but also the human rights of people and peoples outside of Japan."

South Korea has expressed "grave concerns" while China also questioned the move and called on Japan to fulfil its "international responsibilities". 

The United States says Japan is doing just that.

"In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards," the US State Department said.

The Associated Press reports that while Japanese government officials say tritium is not harmful in small amounts, other experts suggest the long-term impact on marine life is unknown.