Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

The Fukushima water is safe. So why does no one trust it?

Credit: Getty Images

Japan will today begin releasing tritium-laced water from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant into the ocean (weather permitting). Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement on Tuesday after a meeting with relevant ministers. The Japanese government has stressed the necessity of the plan and its safety, but it has nonetheless escalated an international conflict over the issue. China has responded by imposing an immediate ban on all Japanese seafood imports. 

The discharge has been sanctioned by a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is part of a long-term decommissioning plan for the plant that suffered major damage from the March 2011 earthquake. Tritium is not damaging to the environment if kept within regulatory levels, or to people unless it enters the body in high concentrations. The government says the water being released contains one fourteenth of the acceptable standard. The discharge will be gradual, with the 1.34 million tons (500 Olympic swimming pools’ worth) of stored water slowly released through an underground tunnel. Safety tests will be carried out immediately and the results released within a week. 

None of this has reassured the Chinese. In a statement on Tuesday Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the move ‘extremely selfish’ and demanded Japan find another way to discharge the water. China had maintained a ban on imports from Fukushima and nine other prefectures, and announced last month blanket radiation testing on all seafood products from Japan. Now there is a complete ban ‘effective immediately’. It is not alone: South Korea is maintaining a ban on products from around the Fukushima area despite the president Yoon Suk-yeol accepting the IAEA’s report.

It is hard not to suspect politics at work here. China’s relations with Japan have been at a low ebb for a considerable time, with recent moves by Fumio Kishida’s government towards a closer relationship with America, and some bullish comments on Taiwan further inflaming tensions.

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