Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, along witrh three other members of his Cabinet, ate Fukushima fish sashimi at a lunch meeting on Wednesday to show that fish are safe for consumption, following a controversial decision to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant last week.
Japan’s decision to release water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant has been greeted with horror by the local fishing industry as well as China, South Korea and several Pacific Island states.
Kishida and his ministers had sashimi of flounder, octopus and sea bass that were caught at the Fukushima coast after the water was released, said Japan’s Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. They also consumed vegetables, fruits and a bowl of rice that were harvested in the Fukushima prefecture. “Please everyone show your support for Japan’s safe and delicious seafood items including those from Sanriku Joban,” said Kishida.
Nishimura said that the act shows the Japan PM’s “strong commitment to the leadership in tackling reputational damage while standing by the feelings of the fisheries community in Fukushima.” Kishida is set to visit Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market on Thursday to promote Fukushima fish.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol also ate fish for lunch as his office is serving Korean fish, whose demands have fallen due to concerns over health impact of the wastewater discharge.
What is the Fukushima controversy?
In 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, triggered a tsunami that devastated many coastal areas of the country. Tsunami waves knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant’s backup electricity supply and caused meltdowns in three of its reactors. The event is regarded as one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.
Since the accident, water has been used to cool the damaged reactors. But, as the reactor core contains numerous radioactive elements, including ruthenium, uranium, plutonium, strontium, caesium and tritium, the cooling water has become contaminated.
Japan has argued that the plant contains 134 million tonnes of the wastewater stored in around 1,000 tanks and it must be removed to free up space to build facilities for the plant’s cleanup and decommissioning. This project is expected to take three decades.
The discharge process was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency – the intergovernmental organisation that develops safety standards for managing radioactive waste. It said that the discharge of the water was safe and will have a ‘negligble impact’ on the environment. Meanwhile, all seawater and fish sampling data since the release have been way below set safety limits.
However, China – which together with Hong Kong imports more than $1.1 billion of seafood from Japan every year – has slapped a ban on all seafood imports from Japan, citing health concerns. Protests against the decision have also taken place in South Korea.
Japan’s plan to release the radioactive water has also faced opposition at home from local fishing groups who have expressed concern that it will hurt the repuation of seafood from Fukushima area.
Since then, Chinese citizens are reportedly harassing Japanese diplomatic facilities and schools in China, including through crank calls and stone pelting towards Japan’s embassy. “I must say it is regrettable,” said Kishida, adding that the Chinese government has not responded to requests from Japan for a joint scientific discussion of the release by experts.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry has also issued an advisory for its citizens in China urging them of exercising caution, citing an escalation in the harassment and violent protests. It also warned them not to talk loudly in Japanese to avoid attention.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has hinted of a possibility to take the case to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), saying that Tokyo has raised issues in the past over China’s trade restrictions without scientific basis. “Japan will consider various options while continuing to work within the WTO framework to decide necessary steps,” he said.
(with AP inputs)