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Locals alarmed as Japan plans to discharge water from Fukushima Nuclear Plant this week

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Picture: Anthony Wallace / AFP / Taken on August 22, 2023 – Activists hold a placard that translates as “Mum, Dad, I don’t want to drink it! Japanese nuclear radioactive contaminated water” as she and others protest against the planned release of wastewater from Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific, outside the City Hall in Seoul on August 22, 2023, after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the release will begin on August 24.

By Jessica Corbett

“Nothing about the water release is beneficial to us,” said a Japanese fisherman who lost his brother in the 2011 tsunami. “There is no advantage for us. None. It’s all detrimental.”

Local fishers, Greenpeace, and others shared fresh concerns Tuesday as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear facility into the Pacific Ocean may start as soon as Thursday, more than a dozen years after an earthquake caused a tsunami that triggered reactor meltdowns.

Over the next three decades, Japan plans to discharge about 1.34 million gallons of water — or enough to fill over 500 Olympic swimming pools — into the ocean after using an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) to remove most radionuclides.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company said Tuesday that “as the entity responsible for the safe and steady decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, TEPCO is strictly abiding by the government’s decision and request, and shall quickly make preparations to commence discharge with the utmost vigilance in accordance with the implementation plan.”

Greenpeace Japan project manager Hisayo Takada declared that “we are deeply disappointed and outraged by the Japanese government’s announcement,” and stressed that the discharge decision has been made “despite concerns raised by fishermen, citizens, Fukushima residents, and the international community, especially in the Pacific region and neighbouring countries”.

Haruo Ono, a 71-year-old fisherman from Shinchimachi who lost his brother in the 2011 tsunami, told Agence France-Presse: “Nothing about the water release is beneficial to us. There is no advantage for us. None. It’s all detrimental.”

“Fishermen are 100 percent against,” Ono continued. “The sea is where we work. We make a living off of the sea, we’re at the mercy of the sea. So, if we don’t protect the sea, who would?”

Takashi Nakajima, a 67-year-old who runs a supermarket in Sōma, Fukushima Prefecture that sells local seafood, said of the discharge plan, “It’s like a scheme to release the water before public opposition can flare up.”

Recalling when customers refused to sample local octopus in 2012, just after trial fishing began near the site of the nuclear disaster, Nakajima told Kyodo News, “Catch from the area won’t sell, it will be a repeat of before.”

As The Japan Times reported:

Tuesday’s decision follows Kishida’s meeting with the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, or Zengyoren, at the prime minister’s Office on Monday in an attempt to gain the association’s approval for the plan. Zengyoren Chairperson Masanobu Sakamoto confirmed the group’s continued opposition to the plan, although he added that the proposal had obtained a certain degree of understanding within the fishing industry.

Japan’s prime minister vowed Tuesday that “the government will take responsibility to deal with negative publicity and concerns among fishermen about whether their livelihoods can continue as before, even if the process takes decades until the discharge of the treated water is completed”.

“We have taken every step to ensure a safety net is in place,” said Kishida, whose government has allocated about 80 billion yen ($548 million) to aid local fishers and mitigate negative attention. “I want the relevant ministries to continue implementing measures while staying on the side of the fishermen.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave the plan a green light last month, after concluding that TEPCO “has demonstrated its capabilities for accurate and precise measurements of the radionuclides” in the plant’s water, and “the approach and activities to the discharge of ALPS treated water taken by Japan are consistent with relevant international safety standards”.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi “has committed to the IAEA continuing its impartial, independent, and objective safety review during the discharge phase”, so the agency “will maintain an onsite presence at Fukushima Daiichi” and “publish available data for use by the global community”.

The release plan has long generated global criticism, including from the Chinese government. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, decried Japan’s approach as “an extremely selfish and irresponsible act”.

“China strongly insists that Japan should rectify this wrong decision and abandon its plan to discharge radioactive water into the sea,” the diplomat added. “The Chinese side will take all necessary measures to protect marine ecology, safeguard food safety, and public health.”

According to The Associated Press:

In Seoul, Park Ku-yeon, first vice minister of South Korea’s Office for Government Policy Coordination, told a briefing that officials confirmed Japan would discharge the wastewater in line with its initial plan. If it does not stick to the plan, Park said, South Korea will request Japan to immediately stop the discharge which could threaten safety of South Koreans. Opposition lawmakers and activists protested vehemently, demanding Japan immediately scrap the plan. Hong Kong and Macau announced that they are banning products from Fukushima and nine other prefectures in response to Tokyo’s announcement Tuesday.

“The myth is being perpetuated that discharges are necessary for decommissioning. But the Japanese government itself admits that there is sufficient water storage space in Fukushima Daiichi,” Greenpeace East Asia senior nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie noted Tuesday. “Long-term storage would expose the current government decommissioning roadmap as flawed, but that is exactly what needs to happen. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station is still in crisis, posing unique and severe hazards, and there is no credible plan for its decommissioning.”

“Instead of engaging in an honest debate about this reality, the Japanese government 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,” added Burnie. “This is an outrage that violates the human rights of the people and communities of Fukushima, and other neighbouring prefectures and the wider Asia-Pacific region.”

Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams