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Japan to Release Fukushima Wastewater Into Ocean From Thursday As Hong Kong, Macau Rush to Ban Seafood Imports

CRISIS - Pollution Crises by Martina Igini Asia Aug 23rd 20233 mins
Japan to Release Fukushima Wastewater Into Ocean From Thursday As Hong Kong, Macau Rush to Ban Seafood Imports

The plan, approved two years ago by the Japanese government and greenlighted by the UN nuclear watchdog last month, was heavily criticised by China, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The latter said on Tuesday it would “immediately activate” import controls on Japanese seafood from some prefectures after prime minister Fumio Kishida announced the release of wastewater from Fukushima would begin this week.

Japan is set to begin releasing wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from Thursday, despite opposition from local fishing communities and threats from neighbouring countries to cut seafood imports.

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, who visited the plant on Sunday, said yesterday that the gradual discharge of over 500 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of wastewater collected from the plant will begin on Thursday, “weather and ocean conditions permitting,” adding that the plan is “safe.”

The Fukushima-Daiichi power plant was heavily damaged in a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, leading to one of the worst nuclear accidents in history and leaving Japan grappling with long-lasting environmental and health concerns. In 2021, the government announced a plan to release more than 1.3 million tonnes of treated radioactive water used for cooling from the Fukushima site into the Pacific Ocean, sparking international debates and concerns.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said the plan is consistent with its safety standards and the release would have “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.” Nevertheless, the announcement sparked significant backlash, particularly from neighbouring countries such as China and South Korea, who express concerns over the impact on marine ecosystems and on their own coastal regions.

The primary concern surrounding the Fukushima wastewater release plan is the potential environmental impact on the ocean. Environmentalists argue that releasing radioactive water into the sea may harm marine life, disrupt ecosystems, and endanger human health through the consumption of contaminated seafood. A fish living near drainage outlets at the nuclear plant in May was found to contain levels of radioactive cesium 180 times above Japan’s safety limits. In 2016, local authorities, who regularly monitor all seafood species in the area for radioactivity, installed nets to prevent potentially contaminated fish from escaping.

The plan has also raised concerns about the safety of Japanese food exports. In response, China decided to screen all Japanese food imports as a precautionary measure to protect its citizens from potential radioactive contamination, a move that could have significant economic consequences for Japanese food producers and exporters.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the move “extremely selfish,” adding that the government would take “all the necessary measures to protect the marine environment, food safety, and public health.” 

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee called the discharge “irresponsible” and announced on Tuesday that the city would “immediately activate” import controls on Japanese seafood. Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan Tse had already warned last month that the government would immediately ban food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures – including the Tokyo metropolitan area – if the plan went ahead.

Neighbouring Macau will also implement a ban on animal products, live, frozen, refrigerated and dried seafood, sea salt and seaweed, as well as vegetables or fruit from prefectures deemed of high contamination risk, the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) said on Tuesday.

In South Korea, environmental activists have taken to the streets to voice fears of contamination, with dozens of alarmed protesters gathering in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. In a statement, the government said it sees no “scientific or technical problems with the plan,” though it “does not necessarily agree with or support [it].”

South Korea banned seafood imports from some areas in the aftermath of the disaster in 2011, though it did not announce new restrictions after Tuesday’s announcement. It said, however, that its “battle” to stop the resale would continue.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

You might also like: The Fukushima Water Release Plan: Problems, Consequences, and Solutions

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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