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Japan has begun dumping radioactive water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, a move that risks deepening conflict with China, which has accused the discharge of being “extremely selfish”.
The water is expected to take decades to release, 12 years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s east coast.
After the plant was sabotaged in March 2011, its operator Tepco used seawater to cool the reactors, which became contaminated with radionuclides. There are more than 1,000 tanks on site to store water, but TEPCO says there is no room to build more.
The water is treated with a sophisticated filtration system that removes most of the radioactive material. However, there is no practical way to filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
While the International Atomic Energy Agency and many other nuclear and radiological experts backed the decision, Tokyo’s claim that it was safe to pump 1.3 million tons of water into the sea has been questioned by regional neighbors and local fisheries.
Tritium has a half-life (the time it takes half of the initial radioactive material to decay) of 12.3 years. Radiation can be harmful to health, but Japan insists that doses in treated water will be less than one-seventh the World Health Organization standard for drinking water.
Domestically, opposition from the fishing industry stems from concerns about economic and reputational damage, while experts say neighboring countries distrust the explanations and data provided by the Japanese government and Tepco.
“When the country responsible for the nuclear accident says it’s safe to release water, people in overseas countries naturally have a hard time believing it,” said Naoya Sekiya, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo. “If you look at the concerns raised by China, you It will be found that they are not necessarily as unscientific as the Japanese government claims.”
“That’s why universities and other third-party organizations need to continue analyzing and disclosing the data after the water is discharged to confirm whether their data matches the data provided by the government,” said Hyoe Takata, an associate professor at Fukushima University.
This week, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong criticized Japan’s decision as “extremely selfish” and summoned Japan’s ambassador to China to protest the release of the Japanese.
This behavior blatantly transfers the risk of nuclear pollution to neighboring countries including China and the international community. [Japan] Put your own interests above the long-term well-being of people in the region and around the world,” he said on Tuesday.
Hong Kong has banned seafood imports from nine Japanese prefectures and Tokyo, and has expressed strong opposition to the emissions plan, with Hong Kong leader John Lee criticizing the move as “irresponsible”.
Seafood products imported from other parts of Japan can enter Hong Kong but must be tested for radioactivity “before they are approved for supply in the market,” officials said.
Some Japanese restaurateurs and seafood importers in Hong Kong are concerned about the ban, said Wong Siu-ming, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catering Industry.
“Restaurants are really worried,” Huang said. “Because of all the news surrounding this, more people may also be wary of eating out at Japanese restaurants.”