Fukushima nuclear discharge goes ahead despite continuing objections

Operators of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan have released a third batch of treated radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, despite protests.

The discharges have been strongly opposed by fishing groups and neighbouring countries including China, which banned all imports of Japanese seafood, badly hurting Japanese producers and exporters of scallops and other seafood.

Large amounts of radioactive wastewater have accumulated at the nuclear plant since it was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. It began discharging treated and diluted wastewater into the ocean on 24 August and finished releasing the third 7,800-ton batch on 20 November.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), said the third release, like the two previous ones, went smoothly and marine samples tested by it and the government showed that levels of all selected radionuclides were far lower than international safety standards.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in a meeting last Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, asked China to immediately lift the seafood ban, to no avail.

The two sides will convene a meeting of scientific experts to discuss the release but there was no timetable for a possible lifting of the ban, Kishida said.

Japan’s government has set up a relief fund to help find new markets for Japanese seafood, and the central and local governments have led campaigns to encourage Japanese consumers to eat more fish and support Fukushima seafood producers.

TEPCO is also providing compensation to the fisheries industry for “reputational damage” to its products caused by the wastewater release, and said it has mailed application forms to 580 possible compensation seekers.

The wastewater is treated to remove as much radioactivity as possible to meet legally releasable standards and then greatly diluted with seawater before it is discharged. TEPCO and the government say the process is safe, but some scientists say the continuing release of water containing radionuclides from damaged reactors is unprecedented and should be monitored closely.

TEPCO plans a fourth release by the end of March 2024.