The Background – Fukushima Disaster:
The Fukushima meltdown was a catastrophic nuclear disaster that occurred in March 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. Triggered by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the disaster resulted in the meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors, releasing large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.
The earthquake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, struck off the northeastern coast of Japan, causing a massive tsunami that inundated the Fukushima plant and disabled its cooling systems. Without adequate cooling, the reactor cores overheated, leading to fuel rod damage and the release of hydrogen gas. This gas triggered explosions in reactor buildings, releasing substantial radioactive particles into the atmosphere.
The disaster prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from the surrounding areas, and its environmental and health impacts were significant. The release of radioactive materials led to soil and water contamination, agricultural and economic losses, and increased cancer concerns due to radiation exposure. The Fukushima meltdown highlighted the vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants to natural disasters and the importance of robust safety measures and emergency planning in the nuclear industry worldwide. It also spurred debates about the future of nuclear energy and its role in the global energy mix, with implications for policy, technology, and public perception.
Following the Fukushima meltdown, a significant amount of radioactive water had accumulated at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This water resulted from several sources, including the cooling of the reactors’ damaged cores, water used to cool the spent fuel rods, and groundwater that flowed into the reactor buildings. To prevent further contamination of the environment, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), began storing this radioactive water in large tanks on the plant’s premises.
However, over time, the sheer volume of contaminated water exceeded the plant’s storage capacity, necessitating additional measures. One of the main concerns was the potential leakage of this stored water into the nearby ocean, which could exacerbate the environmental and health impacts of the disaster.
In April 2021, the Japanese government and TEPCO announced a controversial plan to address the issue. This plan involved treating the contaminated water using an advanced liquid processing system to remove most of the radioactive elements, with the exception of tritium, a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen. After treatment, the water would be gradually released into the ocean in a controlled manner, a decision that sparked debate and concerns among local communities, environmental organizations, and neighboring countries.
The decision to release the treated water into the ocean raised questions about potential impacts on marine life, the fishing industry, and international relations. The Japanese government and TEPCO emphasized that the release would meet international safety standards and that tritium is routinely released from nuclear facilities around the world. Nonetheless, the situation highlighted the complex challenges of managing the long-term consequences of nuclear disasters and the delicate balance between environmental protection, public health, and economic considerations.
Several nations, especially China, South Korea, and Russia, have expressed major concerns, collectively harboring deep concerns regarding the proposed release of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. These nations share apprehensions on several fronts. Environmental impact tops their list of worries, fearing that such a release could severely damage marine ecosystems and disrupt fisheries that are crucial for their economies. The potential contamination of seafood, a staple in their diets, raises substantial food safety concerns, especially considering the long-term effects of radiation exposure.
Transparency and information sharing pose another significant issue. The lack of clear, comprehensive information about the water treatment process and the potential risks involved has led to skepticism and mistrust.
International standards and guidelines are pivotal to their concerns. All three nations emphasize the necessity of adhering to established global norms in managing radioactive waste and minimizing potential hazards.
Diplomatic relations have also been strained. Japan’s handling of the situation has led to tensions, requiring diplomatic negotiations to address the complexities and mitigate possible consequences.
China Bans Japanese Food Imports Over Health Concerns:
Following Japan’s first release of some of the water on August 24, China’s General Administration of Customs immediately enacted a ban on all Japanese seafood imports. Many Chinese citizens and officials have openly called for boycotts of Japanese goods and services.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for a repeal of the ban, saying, “[Japan] has demanded through diplomatic channels that the Chinese side immediately repeal.”
“We will continue to strongly urge the Chinese government to have experts discuss the impact of the ocean release based on scientific evidence,” he stated.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings is responsible for the water release.
Outrage in China:
Japanese authorities have urged their Chinese counterparts to step up security following a string of attacks on Japanese schools, offices, and restaurants in China attributed to targeted harassment from locals over the water release.
No injuries to students or damage to school buildings have been confirmed, according to sources familiar with the incidents.
The day of the release, a Chinese man threw stones at the premises of a Japanese school in Qingdao, Shandong Province, eastern China. The man was seized by security guards as he yelled about the water release.
A Japanese school in Suzhou in neighboring Jiangsu Province was also pelted with eggs, presumably in response to the outrage.
Dozens of “harassing phone calls” have been made to Japanese schools in China as well.
The Japanese Embassy in Beijing called on Japanese nationals in China to act with caution, such as not speaking Japanese loudly while going out, saying that the possibility of unexpected incidents happening following the start of the treated water discharge cannot be ruled out.
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano summoned China’s ambassador to Japan, Wu Jianghao, on August 28 and urged the Chinese government to call on its citizens to remain calm and practice restraint.
Japanese travelers were also advised to inform their families and workplaces of their itineraries and points of contact in China. Protests are also expected as anti-Japanese sentiment increases, especially around the upcoming 92nd anniversary of the 1931 railway bombing that led to the Manchurian Incident and Japanese invasion of China.
Experts Claim the Water Remains Safe:
According to Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, the amount of tritium, characterized as “a radioactive variant of hydrogen,” present in the treated water being released from the Fukushima plant is lower than the levels found in water discharged from nuclear power facilities in countries like China, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Smith said there was “no scientific reason why you shouldn’t eat seafood from the coast of Japan.”
Retired Imperial College London Prof. Geraldine Thomas also said, “There is no reason not to eat, or drink, or anything, from that region of Japan whatsoever.”