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Japan to release water from stricken Fukushima nuclear plant

Japan will release water from the stricken Fukushima power plant into the Pacific Ocean from Thursday, 12 years after one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.


China, which has already partially halted Japanese food shipments, sharply criticised the announcement, while Hong Kong and Macau said they would ban the import of “aquatic products” from 10 Japanese regions, with the latter also banning vegetable and dairy imports.

Japan insists that the gradual discharge of the more than 500 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water from the site in northeast Japan, announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday, is safe.

The Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station was knocked out by a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed around 18,000 people in March 2011, sending three of its reactors into meltdown.

Operator TEPCO has since collected 1.34 million tonnes of water used to cool what remains of the still highly radioactive reactors, mixed with groundwater and rain that has seeped in.

TEPCO says the water will be diluted and filtered before release to remove all radioactive substances except tritium, levels of which are far below dangerous levels.

This aerial picture taken by Jiji Press on February 14, 2021 shows a view of storage tanks used for storing treated water at TEPCO’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant at Okuma, Fukushima prefecture. The Japanese government will decide on August 22, 2023 about the release of treated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, the government minister in charge said. (Photo by JIJI Press / AFP) / Japan OUT

It has failed to reassure China, which said it would take “necessary measures to safeguard the marine environment, food safety and public health”.

Its foreign ministry said Tuesday that it had summoned Japan’s ambassador to lodge “solemn representations” against the release.

“The ocean is the common property of all humankind, not a place for Japan to arbitrarily dump nuclear-contaminated water,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at an earlier press conference.

A nuclear expert, however, said the level of tritium was well below World Health Organization drinking water limits.

“Tritium has been released (by nuclear power plants) for decades with no evidential detrimental environmental or health effects,” Tony Hooker, a nuclear expert from the University of Adelaide, told AFP.

Protesters hold signs reading “Don’t throw radioactive contaminated water into the sea!”(L), “Don’t throw polluted water into the sea” (2nd L), Radioactive, don’t throw polluted water into the sea” (R), as they take part in a rally against the Japanese government’s plan to release treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the ocean, outside the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on August 22, 2023. The release of wastewater from Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific will begin on August 24, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on August 22, despite opposition from fishermen and protests by China. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)




This water will be released, if weather conditions allow, into the ocean off Japan‘s northeast coast at a maximum rate of 500,000 litres (132,000 US gallons) per day.

The UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in July the release would have a “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment”.

On Tuesday, the IAEA said its staff would be on site for the start of the discharge and beyond and would publish “real-time and near real-time monitoring data”.

Japan‘s fisheries agency will take samples of bottom-dwelling flatfish at two designated sampling spots near the outlet of the water pipe.

But environmental pressure group Greenpeace has said the filtration process is flawed.

Japan “has opted for a false solution — decades of deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment — during a time when the world’s oceans are already facing immense stress and pressures”, Greenpeace said Tuesday.

This photo taken on February 15, 2023 shows a general view of solar panels (foreground) next to a section of the hydrogen storage and supply facilities (behind) at the “Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field” (FH2R), one of the largest test facilities in the world producing hydrogen from renewable energy, during a government-sponsored tour of the area in Namie, just north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant located a few kilometres away along the Pacific coast in Fukushima prefecture, ahead of the 12th anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which hit the area and crippled the plant. The Fukushima region affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster has invested heavily in renewable energy — a sector Japan was slow to embrace, but now considers key to reaching carbon neutrality. Renewables accounted for 43 percent of Fukushima’s energy consumption in fiscal 2020, up from just 24 percent in 2011. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP)


 Salt panic


Many South Koreans are alarmed at the prospect of the release, staging demonstrations and even stocking up on sea salt because of fears of contamination.

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul on Tuesday, with more rallies planned.

One protester held up a sign reading: “We denounce the Japanese government for killing the ocean!”

But President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government, taking political risks at home, has sought to improve long-frosty relations with Japan and has not objected to the plan.

Meanwhile, China had already accused Japan of treating the ocean like a “sewer”, banning imports of food from 10 Japanese prefectures even before the release and imposing strict radiation checks.

James Brady from the Teneo risk consultancy said that, while China’s safety concerns may be sincere, there was a distinct whiff of geopolitics and economic rivalry in its harsh reaction.

“The multifaceted nature of the Fukushima wastewater release issue makes it quite a useful one for Beijing to potentially exploit,” Brady told AFP.

The threat of restrictions has worried people in Japan‘s fishing industry, just as business was beginning to recover.

“Nothing about the water release is beneficial to us,” third-generation fisherman Haruo Ono, 71, whose brother was killed in 2011, told AFP in Shinchimachi, 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of the nuclear plant.


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