Japan announced on Tuesday that it would start discharging more than a million tons of treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean on August 24, implementing a plan that drew strong criticism in China has.
The plan, approved two years ago by the Japanese government as crucial to shutting down the power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), has also drawn criticism from local fishing groups, who fear it will damage their reputations and threaten their livelihoods.
“I have asked Tepco to quickly prepare for the water discharge in accordance with the plan approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority and expect the water discharge to start on August 24, weather conditions permitting,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday morning .
Japan has declared that the water release is safe. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear regulatory agency, gave the plan the green light in July, saying it met international standards and that the impact it would have on people and the environment was “negligible.”
Still, some neighboring countries have expressed skepticism about the plan's safety, with Beijing emerging as the biggest critic. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in July that Japan had shown selfishness and arrogance and failed to fully consult the international community on the water release.
China calls Japan's decision to dump contaminated water ‘extremely irresponsible'
China bans imports of seafood from 10 prefectures in Japan, including Fukushima and the capital Tokyo. Importing seafood from other prefectures is allowed, but must pass radioactivity tests and show proof that it was produced outside the ten banned prefectures.
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South Korean activists have also protested the plan, although Seoul's own study concluded that the water release meets international standards and respects the IAEA's assessment.
Japan says the water is filtered to remove most of the radioactive elements except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that's difficult to separate from the water. The treated water is diluted to well below internationally acceptable tritium levels before being discharged into the Pacific.
The water was used to cool Fukushima Daiichi's fuel rods after they melted in an accident caused by a huge 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan's east coast.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Gerry Doyle)