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Japan's nuclear decision ripples through the Pacific

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

By Jay Li Sept. 28, 2023

Over a decade after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster—the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl—radioactive challenges continue to leak out of the long-decommissioned power plant. On Aug. 24, the Japanese government began dispelling thousands of tons of radioactive wastewater from the plant into the Pacific Ocean, drawing fierce criticism from the public, the fishing industry and neighboring countries.

Dana Lim Art

Ever since an earthquake and tsunami heavily damaged the plant during the nuclear disaster, the reactor cores have required constant water flow to prevent a meltdown. The cooling process produces incredible amounts of wastewater which, despite being treated, still contains dangerous levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope that is impossible to remove. According to Reuters, over 1,000 tanks containing 350 million gallons of wastewater have accumulated, which the current administration believes is unsustainable. Instead, they have planned to release the wastewater into the Pacific over the course of several decades.

Prior to discharge, the wastewater will undergo its usual treatment process and be mixed with saltwater, diluting the tritium. The resulting mixture will then be channeled to the bottom of the Pacific, where it will be further diluted.

“The potential habitat loss, food chain disruptions and pollution that would result from this irreversible decision makes it far too unpredictable to be taken. The sheer amount of wastewater could permanently damage not only the Pacific Ocean, but also the future generations of all nations beyond Japan,” Junior Ethan Nguyen said.

While the U.N. International Atomic Energy and Nuclear Regulation Authority has signed off on Japan's plan after citing a negligible impact on the environment and people, the Japanese fishing industry, South Korea and China have voiced skepticism. China was previously Japan’s largest importer of seafood but has since restricted all Japanese aquatic products from entering the country, unconvinced that the discharge process is safe. Tokyo responded by emphasizing that China’s own nuclear power plants release wastewater with even higher levels of tritium, per Times Magazine.

“While Japan’s decision to dump wastewater into the Pacific is dangerous, China’s blanket ban on Japanese products goes too far, as it will cause seafood prices to spike and take away Chinese citizens’ option of buying Japanese seafood. Instead, Japanese seafood could still sell in China but require radioactivity testing,” Freshman Andrew Sohn said.

The concern is not limited to China; over 50,000 South Korean citizens assembled around the capital building and the Japanese embassy in protest of a lackluster response from the South Korean government, which is still allowing imports. They have accused President Yoon Suk Yeol of seeking closer ties to Japan in exchange for public health.

Dana Lim Art

On the domestic front, Japanese fishing groups are worried about their sales given the already plummeting seafood prices of local seafood, similar to how the initial disaster in 2011 dealt a heavy blow to the industry. In an effort to mitigate backlash, Japanese officials have promised the fishing industry compensatory funds, launched public education campaigns and bolstered diplomatic talks with foreign delegates.

As controversy surrounding the wastewater release persists, a delicate balance between environmental concerns and international relations underscores the complex challenges Japan faces in addressing the legacy of the Fukushima disaster.


About the Contributors

Jay Li

opinions page editor

Jay Li is a junior at Leland High School and the Opinions Page Editor for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys playing game pigeon and hanging out with his friends and family.

Dana Lim


Dana Lim is a junior at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she loves watching movies, listening to music, and taking five hour naps.

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