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Japan: UN experts say deeply disappointed by decision to discharge Fukushima water

15 April 2021

GENEVA (15 April 2021) - UN human rights experts* today expressed deep regret at Japan’s decision to release contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, saying the discharge could impact millions of lives and livelihoods in the Pacific region.

“The release of one million tonnes of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan,” the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council said.

“The Government’s decision is very concerning given the warnings about the effect of such a discharge on so many people’s lives and the environment at large. It comes after years of discussion and concerns raised by local communities -- particularly the fishing community who was already severely hit by the 2011 disaster -- environmental NGOs, neighbouring countries and civil society. The decision is particularly disappointing as experts believe alternative solutions to the problem are available.”

UN experts have voiced their concerns to the Japanese Government about the potential threats to human health and the environment resulting from the discharge of radioactive water to the Pacific Ocean.

The experts said the water may contain quantities of radioactive carbon-14, as well as other radioactive isotopes including strontium-90 and tritium. In correspondence with the experts, the Japanese Government suggested that the treated water stored in the tanks was not contaminated.

The experts said that the water processing technology known as ALPS had failed to completely remove radioactive concentrations in most of the contaminated water stored in tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “A first application ALPS failed to clean the water below regulatory levels and there are no guarantees that a second treatment will succeed,” they said, adding that the technology did not remove radioactive tritium or carbon-14.

“Japan has noted that the levels of tritium are very low and do not pose a threat to human health. However, scientists warn that the tritium in the water organically binds to other molecules, moving up the food chain affecting plants and fish and humans. They say the radioactive hazards of tritium have been underestimated and could pose risks to humans and the environment for over 100 years.  

“We remind Japan of its international obligations to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, to conduct environmental impact assessments of the risks that the discharge of water may have, to prevent transboundary environmental harms, and to protect the marine environment,” the experts said.

The UN independent experts have communicated their concerns related to the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster to the Japanese authorities in the following communication letters:

JPN 1/2021 of 13.01.2021; JPN 1/2020 of 20.04.2020; JPN 6/2018 of 05.09.2018; JPN 5/2018 of 28.06.2018; JPN 2/2017 of 20.03.2017.


*The experts: Mr. Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Mr. Michael Fakhri,  Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, Mr. David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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