Japan releases radioactive water from Fukushima plant into Pacific; China imposes blanket ban seafood imports

Japan initiated the release of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday leading China to immediately impose a blanket ban on all seafood imports from Japan.

China expressed deep concern about the potential for radioactive contamination in Japan’s food and agricultural products exported to China, according to a statement from Chinese customs officials. South Korea’s Prime Minister, Han Duck-soo, announced that import bans on Fukushima fisheries and food products would persist until public concerns were alleviated.

This move comes despite the Japanese government signing off on the water release two years ago and receiving approval from the UN nuclear watchdog just last month. The release is a critical step in the complex process of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was devastated by a tsunami.

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Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the plant operator, reported that the water release began without any detected abnormalities in the seawater pump or surrounding facilities.

China, however, remains firmly opposed to the plan, contending that the Japanese government has not adequately demonstrated the legitimacy of the water discharge. China’s foreign ministry accused Japan of acting in its own selfish interests and called for the protection of local and global populations.

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Japan has defended the safety of the water release, citing the conclusions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which deemed its impact on people and the environment as “negligible.” Tokyo criticised China for spreading “scientifically unfounded claims.”

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was catastrophically damaged in March 2011 following a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, resulting in the meltdowns of three of its reactors. Japanese fishing groups, already grappling with reputational damage due to radiation concerns, have strongly opposed the release. The indefinite Chinese ban on seafood imports from Japan exacerbates fears of export losses.

In 2022, Japan exported approximately $600 million worth of aquatic products to China, making it the largest market for Japanese seafood exports. Hong Kong was the second-largest market. Together, China and Hong Kong accounted for 42 percent of all Japanese aquatic exports in 2022.

The water release will be conducted in phases and subject to additional checks. The initial discharge will involve 7,800 cubic meters of water, equivalent to about three Olympic-sized swimming pools, and will occur over roughly 17 days.

According to Tepco’s test results, the water contains up to 63 becquerels of tritium per liter, well below the World Health Organization’s drinking water limit of 10,000 becquerels per liter. Tritium is a unit of radioactivity. The IAEA corroborated these findings, confirming that the tritium concentration was significantly below the limit.

Japan plans to monitor the area around the water release and publish weekly results starting on Sunday, as stated by the environment minister. Tepco anticipates that the process of releasing the wastewater, totaling over 1.3 million metric tons, will span approximately 30 years.

While civic groups have launched protests in Japan and South Korea, the South Korean government has not found scientific or technical issues with the release. Ahead of the release, dozens of protesters gathered in front of Tepco’s headquarters in Tokyo, bearing signs that read “Don’t throw contaminated water into the sea!” One protester, Jun Iizuka, “The Fukushima nuclear disaster is not over. This time only around 1 percent of the water will be released”.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Updated: 24 Aug 2023, 02:28 PM IST

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