Japan has sparked anger from environmental groups and the Chinese government by starting to discharge more than a million tonnes of tainted water into the Pacific Ocean from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
In Japan, businesses and institutions have started receiving abusive phone calls about the decision with a report from the BBC observing that the calls are being made from phone numbers with Chinese dialling codes.
China announced an immediate blanket ban on all seafood imports from Japan and nearby fishing communities are also very concerned.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), first pumped a small quantity of water from the plant on Thursday (August 23rd), two days after the plan was approved by Japan’s government.
Tepco said it had not identified any abnormalities with the seawater pump or surrounding facilities and monitors from the UN atomic watchdog, which has endorsed the plan, were on site for the procedure.
‘The ocean is the common property of all humanity, and forcibly starting the discharge of Fukushima’s nuclear wastewater into the ocean is an extremely selfish and irresponsible act that ignores international public interests.
However, China’s customs agency announced it would ‘completely suspend the import of aquatic products originating in Japan’, effective immediately, in order to ‘prevent the risk of radioactive contamination of food safety’.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated: ‘The ocean is the common property of all humanity, and forcibly starting the discharge of Fukushima’s nuclear wastewater into the ocean is an extremely selfish and irresponsible act that ignores international public interests.
‘By dumping the water into the ocean, Japan is spreading the risks to the rest of the world and passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity.’
Fukushima Water Contamination
The water became contaminated after it was used to cool three nuclear reactors that melted down after Fukushima was struck by a powerful tsunami in March 2011. The waves knocked out the plant’s backup electricity supply and forced the evacuation of 160,000 people, in the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Liquid will initially be released in modest quantities and with extra checks, Tepco said, with the first discharge, totalling 7,800 cubic metres, expected to last about 17 days. The utility will start the release ‘carefully and from a small amount’ it said.
The procedure is expected to take up to 40 years to complete.
On-site technology is used to remove most harmful substances, but it is unable to filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is considered to be relatively harmless because, according to Tepco, it emits very weak levels of radiation and does not accumulate or concentrate inside the human body.
But critics say a lack of long-term data means it is impossible to say with certainty that tritium poses no threat to human health or the marine environment.
Greenpeace said the radiological risks had not been fully assessed, and that the biological impacts of tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90 and iodine-129 – which will be released as part of the discharge – have been ignored.
‘We are deeply disappointed and outraged by the Japanese Government’s announcement to release water containing radioactive substances into the ocean. Despite concerns raised by fishermen, citizens, Fukushima residents, and the international community, especially in the Pacific region and neighbouring countries, this decision has been made,’ said Hisayo Takada, Project Manager at Greenpeace Japan.
An article in the English-language edition of the China state-run Global Times accused Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, of opening an ecological ‘Pandora’s box’ by approving the release.
‘What will be unleashed once the Pandora’s box is open?’ the newspaper said. ‘The answer to this question may become a landmine threatening the ecological environment of the world and the fears of real-life Godzilla (a massive mutated creature which features in Japanese myth) among the public worldwide.’