Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said Japan asked China to immediately lift the seafood ban imposed by Beijing after the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began releasing treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
“We will keep strongly requesting that the Chinese government firmly carry out a scientific discussion,” Kishida said, pledging to protect the fisheries industry from reputational damage due to the release.
Kishida added that the release is indispensable and could not be postponed.
In response to the wastewater release, Chinese customs authorities banned seafood from Japan, customs authorities announced on Thursday. The ban started immediately and will affect all imports of “aquatic products” including seafood, according to the notice.
Authorities said they will “dynamically adjust relevant regulatory measures as appropriate to prevent the risks of nuclear-contaminated water discharge to the health and food safety of our country.”
The release of nuclear waste into the sea also prompted South Korea to halt seafood consumption. North Korea also called for an immediate cessation of of the release.
After China’s announcement, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) President Tomoaki Kobayakawa said the utility was preparing to compensate Japanese business owners appropriately for damages suffered by export bans from “the foreign government.” He said China is a key t rading partner and he will do his utmost to provide scientific explanations of the release so the ban will be dropped as soon as possible.
The Japanese government and TEPCO say the water must be released to make room for the plant’s decommissioning and to prevent accidental leaks. They say the treatment and dilution will make the wastewater safer than international standards and its environmental impact will be negligible.
"Water released from the Fukushima plant is safe"
Tony Hooker, director of the Center for Radiation Research, Education, Innovation at the University of Adelaide, said the water released from the Fukushima plant is safe. “It certainly is well below the World Health Organisation drinking water guidelines,” he said.
“It’s a very political issue of disposing radiation into the sea,” he said. “I understand people’s concerns and that’s because we as scientists have not explained it in a very good way, and we need to do more education.”
Still, some scientists say the long-term impact of the low-level radioactivity that remains in the water needs attention.
In a statement Thursday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said, “IAEA experts are there on the ground to serve as the eyes of the international community and ensure that the discharge is being carried out as planned consistent with IAEA safety standards.”
The United Nations agency also said it would launch a webpage to provide live data about the discharge, and repeated its assurance that the IAEA would have an on-site presence for the duration of the release.
A new hardship for fisheries industry?
The water release begins more than 12 years after the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami. It marks a milestone for the plant’s battle with an ever-growing radioactive water stockpile that TEPCO and the government say has hampered the daunting task of removing fatally toxic melted debris from the reactors.
People inside and outside the country protested the wastewater release, with Japanese fishing groups fearing it will further damage the reputation of their seafood and groups in China and South Korea raising concerns, making it a political and diplomatic issue.
Fukushima’s fisheries, tourism and economy — which are still recovering from the disaster — worry the release could be the beginning of a new hardship.
Fukushima’s current fish catch is only about one-fifth its pre-disaster level, in part due to a decline in the fishing population.
China has tightened radiation testing on Japanese products from Fukushima and nine other prefectures, halting exports at customs for weeks, Fisheries Agency officials said.
TEPCO plans to release 31,200 tons of the treated water by the end of March 2024, which would empty only 10 tanks because of the contaminated production of wastewater at the plant, though the pace will later pick up.