PIF committed to addressing strong concerns on the potential threat of nuclear contamination to the health and security of the Blue Pacific, its people, and its prospects

The Pacific Islands Forum remains fully committed to addressing strong concerns for the significance of the potential threat of nuclear contamination to the health and security of the Blue Pacific, its people, and prospects, says Secretary General Henry Puna.

Even before Japan announced its decision in April 2021, Pacific states, meeting for the first time in December 2020 as States Parties to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga), “recalled concerns about the environmental impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor accident in 2011 and urged Japan to take all steps necessary to address any potential harm to the Pacific”.

They “called on States to take all appropriate measures within their territory, jurisdiction or control to prevent significant transboundary harm to the territory of another state, as required under international law”.

These important statements stem from key international legal rules and principles, including the unique obligation placed by the Rarotonga Treaty on Pacific states to “Prevent Dumping” (Article 7), in view of our nuclear testing legacy and its permanent impacts on our peoples’ health, environment and human rights.

Pacific states therefore have a legal obligation “to prevent the dumping of radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter by anyone” and “not to take any action to assist or encourage the dumping by anyone of radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter at sea anywhere within the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone”.

SG Puna said specific concerns by the Forum on nuclear contamination issues are not new; for many years, the Forum has had to deal with attempts by other states to dump nuclear waste into the Pacific. Leaders have urged Japan and other shipping states “to store or dump their nuclear waste in their home countries rather than storing or dumping them in the Pacific”. 

In 1985, the Forum welcomed the Japan PM’s statement that “Japan had no intention of dumping radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean in disregard of the concern expressed by the communities of the region”.

“Against this regional context, Forum engagement on the present unprecedented issue signifies that for our Blue Pacific, this is not merely a nuclear safety issue. It is rather a nuclear legacy issue, an ocean, fisheries, environment, biodiversity, climate change, and health issue with the future of our children and future generations at stake. Our people do not have anything to gain from Japan’s plan but have much at risk for generations to come.

“To this end, scientific discussions have led to consideration of the appropriate application and adequacy of current international nuclear safety standards to the Fukushima case, noting modern scientific developments and noting also the non-legally binding nature of these standards, including for all Pacific states,” said Puna in a statement.

Importantly, this is an issue of significant transboundary and transgenerational impacts, and has the potential to set a precedent for deliberate, unilateral dumping of high volumes of nuclear waste into our ocean. This itself poses major impacts and long-term worry for Pacific Island states who should not have to bear another “nuclear testing” activity. New approaches, including alternatives to ocean dumping, are needed and are the responsible way forward, he said.

“Indeed, the way forward should involve comprehensive international consultation particularly with affected states, and not only through the IAEA platform but through other relevant platforms holding the mandate on ocean and marine environmental protection such as the 1982 UNCLOS and the London Convention and Protocol on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter.

“Just this week, we celebrated the achievement with the BBNJ instrument and reflected on the success of the 1982 UNCLOS, which safeguard the health of the Pacific Ocean for its biological resources of economic, ecological, and cultural value.

“We continue to hear diverging views on this issue, scientifically, politically, and publicly; and this is a sign of the high global interest in the issue. The PIF independent panel of scientific experts have continued to dialogue intensively not only with Japan and IAEA experts, but amongst themselves as global experts in a range of related areas including nuclear power, radiation, high energy physics, marine environmental sciences, oceanography, and marine radiochemistry I too continue to dialogue with Japan, PIF Leaders, and broader stakeholders. It is clear in my mind that more work and dialogue is needed to ensure that we all come to a common understanding on this issue,” stressed Puna in a statement.

“More time and an abundance of caution – the precautionary principle – are therefore highly critical for continued engagement through international consultation, international law and independent and verifiable scientific assessments, as has been highlighted by Pacific Leaders since the PALM9 Meeting with Japan in July 2021.

“I remain heartened by the assurance that Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has given the Forum Chair and Leaders, in that Japan will not discharge the ALPS treated nuclear wastewater until such time that all parties agree that it is verifiably safe to do so and based on a relationship built of trust and in the spirit of friendship,” said SG Puna.

This story was originally published at PIF on 26 June 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.

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