REMARKS: SG Puna opens public seminar on Fukushima nuclear waste legacy

Remarks and Speeches
18 January 2023

Opening Remarks by Henry Puna

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General

Public Seminar by the PIF Independent Panel of Experts

on the Fukushima issue

18 January 2023, 11AM FJT

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Members of the independent Panel of scientific experts, Madame Moderator, Rhea Moss-Christian, Colleagues, Friends, Bula Vinaka, Kia Orana, and warm greetings from the Blue Pacific. I am so pleased to welcome you to this Public Seminar and to offer some brief remarks.

2. The focus of this seminar is an important issue that remains outstanding for our Forum Family; one of great concern not only for our region today, but for many generations to come.

3. Indeed, our Leaders continue to reiterate the urgent threat of nuclear contamination, and the need to safeguard the future of our beloved Blue Pacific Continent.

4. On this particular issue, I recently released an opinion piece in The Guardian two weeks ago. There, I expressed my views on a number of key issues, and reiterated the position of Pacific Islands countries to genuine dialogue and the importance of working towards a common understanding that is underpinned by approaches that prioritise and protect ocean life, human health and the environment.

5. History teaches us that we cannot wait four decades to figure things out, noting that Japan has indicated that the discharge will take place over the next forty years. Instead, we must know and understand the full terms of any action that has the potential to have a major impact on our region.

6. In particular, we must prevent actions that will lead – or mislead – us towards another major nuclear contamination disaster at the hands of others.

7. Our people continue to endure on a daily basis the long-term impacts of the nuclear testing legacy, so we know first-hand the intergenerational impacts of radioactive nuclear waste. To this very day, a just resolution of this legacy remains evasive, so you can understand our concerns about the implications of the planned discharge by Japan.

8. As we have seen with climate change, our concerns have a sound scientific basis, and today you will learn more about this from the independent panel of experts. I am encouraged by the recent advocacy by the US National Association of Marine Laboratories, an organisation of more than 100 member laboratories, who have opposed the current plans based on lack of adequate and accurate scientific data supporting Japan’s assertion of safety.

9. I want to make clear that this process in no way undermines the important work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

10. However, I strongly urge that we take the time to closely examine whether current international safety standards are adequate to handle the unprecedented case involving a large volume of radioactive wastewater from damaged nuclear reactors as opposed to that discharged in normal operations.

11. The region is steadfast in its position that there should be no discharge until all parties verify through scientific means that such a discharge is safe. Furthermore, taking the easy way out in this unprecedented case could well open the pandora box and lead to widespread ocean dumping that disregards the concerns and livelihoods of small island coastal communities.

12. As stated by many Forum Members, we should rather err on the side of caution. There is no doubt in my mind that more time is absolutely necessary to fully consider all implications of such a decision before choosing the course of action that is not only in the best interest of Japan but of all Pacific Islands countries.

13. To this end, it is paramount that the public is fully aware and takes part in these conversations. While these issues are highly complex and technical, I urge us all to take the time to listen, to learn, and to help in shaping how we can best work together with Japan on this critical and important issue.

14. Finally, I wish to specifically thank the panel members, Dr Ken Buesseler, Dr Arjun Makhijani, Dr Tony Hooker, Dr Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, and Dr Robert Richmond. I am so grateful for their ongoing support and their frank and honest opinions. Thank you also to our Moderator, Rhea Moss-Christian.

15. Ladies and gentlemen, friends, I wish you all the best in today’s discussion, and I count on our collective leadership and voice to steer us forward on this very important issue.

I thank you--ENDS