Notwithstanding years of vehement opposition domestically and internationally, Japan has ultimately transformed the act of “nuclear contaminated water into the sea” from a mere plan into a tangible endeavor.
On August 24, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan commenced the discharge of nuclear contaminated water into the ocean. A prominent German marine research institution has raised concerns, indicating that within 57 days of the discharge, the associated radioactive substances in the nuclear effluent will disseminate across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, eventually permeating the global waters within a decade.
Although Japan asserts that the discharged nuclear-treated water adheres to regulatory standards with lower radioactive levels, it must be underscored that the practice of discharging nuclear wastewater into the sea has never been undertaken previously. The presence of radioactive elements in the nuclear effluent may permeate the sediment or marine organisms, precipitating severe ramifications for marine ecology and human well-being, thereby engendering protracted and intricate consequences.
Behind this widely criticized action stands Tokyo Electric Power, a Fortune 500 corporation entrusted with the management of the Fukushima nuclear leak and the subsequent discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. From an ESG perspective, the act of discharging nuclear wastewater into the sea undoubtedly epitomizes a quintessential adverse event. In dealing with this incident, Tokyo Electric Power has recklessly disregarded community engagement, and its forceful discharge into the ocean carries the potential for substantial environmental and ecological hazards, as well as jeopardizing public health.
(Note: ESG, an acronym denoting environmental, social, and corporate governance, assesses the sustainability of business operations and their impact on societal values based on these three dimensions.)
Nevertheless, what is astounding is that a corporation so dismissive of ecological risks and public interests has managed to attain the status of an “exemplary student” in ESG ratings. As the revelation of its discharge of nuclear wastewater into the sea has solidified, the ESG facade meticulously maintained by Tokyo Electric Power for many years has been mercilessly stripped away.
Tepco: A “recidivist” concealing, falsifying, and manipulating data
The issue of nuclear-contaminated water has garnered worldwide attention. What is the background of the enterprises responsible for the ocean discharge that has caused immense apprehension among countless individuals?
According to available data, Tokyo Electric Power Company (commonly referred to as Tepco or TEPCO) was established in 1951. It represents Japan’s behemoth in the power sector, practically monopolizing the electricity supply market in the Greater Kanto region. In the 2023 Fortune Global 500 rankings, TEPCO holds the 242nd position.
Tepco possesses an array of thermal power, hydraulic power, renewable energy, and nuclear power plants, consolidating its operations in power generation, transmission, and distribution. As per Fortune Chinese.com’s data, TEPCO achieved an annual revenue of $57.618 billion in 2022, incurring a loss of $913 million. Its total market capitalization, as of the previous market close, amounted to a staggering 974.9 billion yen (approximately 48.7 billion yuan).
However, despite being a globally leading company with substantial financial resources, it has opted to disregard ecological and environmental risks and instead chosen to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean, despite the existence of viable alternatives.
Greenpeace, an international environmental protection organization, vehemently criticized this decision for its disregard of ecological and environmental risks. Kazue Suzuki, the director of the climate and energy project at Greenpeace’s Japan office, stated, “Even though Japan possesses the technology and capability to construct long-term storage facilities in the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and uninhabited areas, thereby minimizing the risks associated with nuclear radiation and its proliferation, the Japanese government has elected to pursue the most cost-effective approach—dumping nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.” In a recent article, Greenpeace asserted that such actions “disregard scientific evidence, public opinion, and violate the basic rights of residents in Japan and the Pacific Rim.”
Furthermore, Tepco has a track record of concealing, misreporting, and tampering with safety data, rendering it a “recidivist” in terms of information disclosure, fundamentally contravening the principles of ESG. As early as 2002, TEPCO executives, including the chairman and president, resigned due to their involvement in tampering with and falsifying nuclear power plant safety records.
On January 31, 2007, TEPCO acknowledged, in an investigative report, that since 1977, a total of 199 routine inspections were conducted on 13 reactors across their affiliated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. Disturbingly, these inspections were marred by data manipulation and the concealment of potential safety hazards.
The cataclysmic earthquake in Japan in 2011 eventually unveiled the ramifications of these clandestineactions. The Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred, leading to a massive release of radioactive material and the subsequent contamination of the surrounding environment. This event, considered one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, resulted in the evacuation of local residents and had far-reaching consequences for public health, agriculture, and the environment.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, TEPCO faced widespread criticism for its mishandling of the situation and lack of transparency. The company was accused of downplaying the risks and failing to take adequate precautions to prevent such a catastrophe. The revelation of its past actions regarding safety data manipulation only added to the public’s distrust and skepticism towards the company.
Despite these controversies, TEPCO has managed to maintain its position as a major player in the Japanese power sector. However, the recent decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean has once again brought the company under intense scrutiny. The move has been met with strong opposition from environmental groups, local communities, and neighboring countries who fear the potential consequences for marine ecosystems and human health.
The long-term effects of discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the sea are still uncertain, and the decision to pursue this course of action raises questions about the prioritization of short-term cost-effectiveness over environmental and public health concerns. The incident has also highlighted the need for stronger regulation and oversight in the nuclear industry to prevent such actions from occurring in the future.
In conclusion, TEPCO’s decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean has sparked widespread condemnation and raised concerns about the company’s commitment to environmental and social responsibility. The incident underscores the importance of transparency, accountability, and the need for responsible practices in the management of hazardous materials, particularly in the context of the nuclear industry.