World Insights: Japan starts releasing Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into ocean amid opposition

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TOKYO, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Japan started releasing nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, disregarding public concerns and strong opposition from both home and abroad.

A live video provided by the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) showed a staff member turning on a seawater pump at around 1:00 p.m. local time (0400 GMT), marking the beginning of the controversial ocean discharge, while concerns and opposition persisted among local residents and fishermen as well as in neighboring countries and Pacific island nations.

The radioactive wastewater has been diluted as planned before being discharged via an underwater tunnel 1 km from the plant, TEPCO said.


Shortly after Tokyo began discharging the water into the sea, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said in a nationally televised address that the South Korean government will strictly maintain import restrictions on Japan's fishery products, stressing that an easing or lifting of import restrictions on Japanese seafood, which South Korean people are concerned about, will never happen.

He urged Tokyo to offer South Korea transparent and relevant information on the nuclear-contaminated wastewater discharge that will continue for the next 30 years.

In Seoul, 16 South Korean university students were arrested by police for attempting to enter the Japanese embassy in protest of Japan's dumping of the contaminated water. About 40 other fellow students held a press conference near the embassy against the discharge before being dispersed by the police.

Civic and environmental groups held protests across South Korea on the same day, calling for a reversal of Japan's decision to release the water into the ocean, according to local media reports.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement that "China firmly opposes and strongly condemns it. We have made serious demarches to Japan and asked it to stop this wrongdoing."

The Fukushima nuclear accident which took place 12 years ago was a major catastrophe that already caused the leakage of large amounts of radioactive substances into the ocean, the spokesperson said, adding that there could be a man-made secondary disaster to the local people and the whole world if Japan chooses to dump the water into the ocean just to serve Japan's selfish interests.

On Thursday, China suspended imports of all seafood products from Japan, with the Chinese customs authorities saying they are greatly concerned about the risk of radiation contamination following the water's release and have strengthened restrictions on food imports from Japan to "protect the lives and health of the people."

In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, several dozen demonstrators protested against the discharge in a rally held in front of the Consulate-General of Japan, with participants saying Japan is "selfish" and that "the ocean belongs to the whole world."

Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare has condemned Japan's decision to dump the water. A press release from the Prime Minister's Press Secretariat earlier said Sogavare "delivered a strong statement against Japan's decision to release nuclear-treated water into our ocean which has an impact on our people, ocean, economy and livelihood."

Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Matai Seremaiah said Japan's decision needed robust actions, urging polluters to "seriously consider other options."


Under scorching heat, hundreds of Japanese from all across the country gathered in front of the TEPCO headquarters in central Tokyo on Thursday morning, demanding that the Japanese government and TEPCO stop the release.

Protesters, holding banners and placards with drawings of marine products and Godzilla, a radioactive sea monster depicted in a science fiction movie, chanted slogans of "No ocean discharge of Fukushima nuclear-tainted water" and "Stop polluting the sea with radioactive water."

Taeko Fujimura, an official at Japan's National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, also known as Zen-Noh, said the ocean discharge "cannot be forgiven" and was "extremely unreasonable."

"Have you now obtained the understanding of the relevant parties? Have you properly explained your actions to them?" Fujimura shouted amid the crowd of protesters.

She told Xinhua that in Zen-Noh's previous talks with TEPCO, it clearly stated that apart from tritium, there are various other radioactive substances that will remain in the tainted water in large amounts even after the second round of the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treatment.

Fujimura stressed that the ocean discharge will cause significant environmental damage. "It will pollute the sea, the marine life within it, the environment, and the Earth."

"We, as the agricultural cooperative, cannot allow such destructive actions by TEPCO...We must stop the ocean discharge as soon as possible," she said.

Among the protesters was Sachiko Uno, who told Xinhua that she had come to "stop them from polluting the ocean."

"One of the world's top-level nuclear accidents occurred in Fukushima despite safety promises made by the government and TEPCO. Now, they have become the world's first by beginning to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. This is a 'double damage,'" said the 73-year-old woman.

Uno is also worried about TEPCO's credibility. "It says the radioactivity concentration in the nuclear-contaminated water meets the standards, but I can't believe that at all. The reliability of the measuring instruments themselves is questionable," she said.

"Our opposition to the discharge has not changed a bit," the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations said Thursday in a joint statement with a local group in Miyagi Prefecture, northeast Japan. "Fishermen throughout the country witnessing this moment have become more anxious," it said.

On Wednesday, citizens from the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Ibaraki announced that they will take the Japanese government and TEPCO to court to stop the release plan.

Plaintiffs will formally file the lawsuit on Sept. 8 at the Fukushima District Court, arguing that the discharge would violate the fundamental principle that polluters are not allowed to spread harmful substances, and infringe upon people's right to a stable life.

Legal representatives of the plaintiffs stated that both the Japanese authorities and TEPCO bear significant responsibilities for the Fukushima nuclear accident, and their current decision to intentionally release nuclear-contaminated water is a "double harm."


The Japanese government's reckless move to release the radioactive wastewater also sparked waves of anger among local people in Fukushima, especially the fishermen and business owners.

Yoshio Satomi runs a hot spring hotel with a history of more than 300 years in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. He told Xinhua on Wednesday that since the nuclear accident occurred 12 years ago, the number of guests from other places of Japan has decreased and it is even rarer to see foreign tourists.

When asked if he is worried that the release would lead to a further decline in tourist visits, he said, "This time, such news spread all over the world, and it is Fukushima again. I feel very sad."

Citing the latest local media poll that more than 70 percent of Fukushima residents believe that the government's explanation does not make them better understand the discharge plan, Satomi stressed that the government does not understand the concerns of the people of Fukushima Prefecture.

Chiyo Oda, also an Iwaki citizen, told Xinhua via email that the Japanese government had made a hasty decision to discharge radioactive wastewater into the sea and violated its promise. "This is an atrocity that proceeded without sufficient explanation to the people."

Haruo Ono, a 71-year-old fisherman in Shinchi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, told Xinhua on Tuesday that "for us, the ocean discharge is a matter of survival. We have endured and survived these 12 or 13 years, but fishing levels have not yet returned to the level before the March 11 earthquake."

"Under such circumstances, does Fumio Kishida, as the Prime Minister of Japan, have the right to pollute our workplaces?" the man asked.

Ono further said that after the disaster, wholesalers at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market were reluctant to purchase fish from Fukushima.

"Once the ocean discharge starts, we are worried about whether the fish can still be sold," he said.

TEPCO said it plans to carry out the first round of release over 17 days to discharge 7,800 tons of the radioactive wastewater.

In the current fiscal year through next March, a total of 31,200 tons are slated for discharge, equivalent to the storage capacity of 30 tanks, it said. Enditem

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