Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | 14:43 WIB

Fukushima nuclear waste discharge: a bold response from Indonesia

Jakarta, IO – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be attending the seminal ASEAN summit, to be held in Jakarta this year, together with other heads of big powers, like the US, China and India. A score of meetings have been organized by the organization’s Secretariat for the event, one of which is of Japan’s key engagement platform via an ASEAN-Japan conference.

Prior to his departure for Jakarta, Kishida stated to media that he would explain his Government’s decision to permit Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the owner of Fukushima nuclear power plant, to discharging its radioactive waste water into the sea. The recent release of this dangerous effluent into open water has prompted a harsh reaction from several countries, retaliating by banning the import of seafood commodities from Japan . 

As of this writing, the Government of Indonesia, i.e., its ministries and agencies, have not yet aired their formal stance concerning the disposal of the Fukushima nuclear sewage. Meanwhile, a critical response has emerged from Parliament members, non-governmental institutions’ activists, experts / academia. This protest actually began some two years ago, when the Japanese government announced its approval of a plan submitted by Tepco in 2011. 

For instance, Member of DPR RI Commission VI Luluk Nur Hamidah from the PKB Party urged the Government to be serious about responding to the Japanese policy, because such it would threaten to pollute Indonesian waters, not that far from where the waste was to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean. For this reason, Indonesia must immediately express a firm stance of rejecting the Japanese government plan. And it is necessary to play a central role in gathering support from other Pacific Rim countries in this matter. 

Siswanto Rusdi
Siswanto Rusdi, Director of National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an independent maritime think tank in Jakarta

Bambang Haryo, former Member of Parliament from Gerindra Party, added his voice, saying that the Government of Indonesia must sternly protest the Japanese nuclear dump, because the dangerous material can exert a harmful impact on Indonesian fishers’ catchment. He expects such government agencies as the Ministries of Fisheries, to activate an expert team to monitor the nuclear waste disposal. While the country in question repeatedly affirmed that the discharge will be safe, he is certain that the discharge is still potentially harmful. 

Greenpeace Indonesia has rejected the Japanese plans from the outset; Climate and Energy Campaigner Satrio Swandiko Prillianto suggests a few more years of safe storage for the radioactive waste, until the danger of its radionuclides have decreased to a very low level – instead of dumping it now. If radioactive substances, possibly still at dangerous level, are released into the biosphere it will irradiate anything that comes into contact with it. In a worst case scenario, radioactive contamination can trigger changes in cell structure in the human body, giving rise to leukemia or other cancers. 

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) strongly rejects Japan’s policy as well. National Executive Energy and Urban Campaign Manager Dwi Sawung was cited by media warning of the longterm effects of radioactive nuclear waste on the food chain of marine life and its surroundings. Furthermore, if contaminated seawater is ingested by fish, the impact on people who catch them can be serious, even though the long-term effects are still unknown; that makes it a greater worry. 

Nuclear contaminated waste should not be discharged into the sea, says Koesrianti, an expert in law from Airlangga University (Unair), Surabaya, East Java. Such an arbitrary act is totally impermissible, she added. 

According to senior government officials, Muhammad Radzi bin Abu Hassan, Director-general of Health in Malaysia, our neighboring country, had earlier declared that the release of the treated wastewater is in accordance with Japanese safety standards, and received approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in July. He also sought to assure the public that Malaysia’s health ministry monitors activities at the country’s entry points and local markets, to ensure that food safety is guaranteed. He stated that following the 2011 nuclear plant explosion in Fukushima, the Ministry of Health – through the Food Safety and Quality Division – began to monitor food products imported from Japan, their study running from May 2011 until April 2012. A special monitoring program was also conducted in 2019. 

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Chan Foong Hin has urged the public to remain calm, since Malaysia does not currently import fresh ocean fish from Japan. He added that for processed fishery products from Japan, his Ministry is working closely with the Health Ministry and other government agencies to monitor food safety issues, including carrying out checks on health certification and radiation, post-import. 

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In a recent statement, Muhammad Radzi said that the Ministry of Health will impose a Level 4 (Surveillance) inspection on high-risk food products imported from Japan at the country’s entry points, checking for radioactive content. He admitted that based on data from the ministry, fish and fish-based products are among the most commonly-imported products from Japan, followed by fruits, vegetables and processed food and beverages, with a total value of US$190 million. Media reports confirm that the government of Malaysia has finally banned Japanese seafood imports. Other Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and Thailand, have also halted imports of fish and fish-based products from Japan. 

We should be grateful that many groups in Indonesia have vehemently protested the irresponsible Fukushima waste disposal. We only need to wait for the government’s response. We sincerely hope that authorities here will also take a similar position, without worrying about the effect on the existing Indonesia-Japan partnership, if we take a bold response over the nuclear waste. We are not the only one to do so in southeast Asia. Those countries in the region that have adopted stern policy towards Japan’s policy are also close friends of Tokyo. But when a situation like this develops, in this case the safety of their nation and people, they are not shy about airing their position, no matter what. Now, it is time for Indonesia to follow this path. Once in a while, we need to take a strong stand.


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