South Korea arrests embassy protesters as Japan releases Fukushima nuclear wastewater

China bans Japanese seafood after one million metric tonnes of radioactive water are released

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 24 August 2023 16:09 BST
<p>Protests in Busan, South Korea, against Japan releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant</p>

Protests in Busan, South Korea, against Japan releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant

At least 16 people have been arrested amid protests in South Korea against the release of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan.

Japan began the release of a million metric tonnes of treated radioactive water on Thursday, a major step towards decommissioning the facility which suffered a triple meltdown due to the 2011 tsunami.

Dozens gathered outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to express outrage at the release of the wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, with those arrested accused of attempting to enter an embassy building.

The Chinese government has expressed strong opposition to the plan to release the water and on Thursday announced a new ban on seafood imports from Japan in response.

The move was aimed at preventing “the risk of radioactive contamination of food safety caused by Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water discharge”, and to protect the health of Chinese consumers, the Chinese customs department said in a statement on Thursday.

China’s foreign ministry firmly opposed the plan on Thursday and said that the disposal of the contaminated water in Fukushima “is a major nuclear safety issue with cross border implications” and added that it was “by no means a private matter for Japan alone”.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), the plant operator, commenced the water release at 1.03pm local time. Local media said that the initial release operations proceeded without any reported anomalies.

Protesters outside power company offices in Tokyo hold signs reading ‘Don’t throw radioactive contaminated water into the sea!’

Over the next 17 days or so, Tepco will release about 7,800 tonnes of treated water into the ocean.

The Japanese government has maintained that the measure is necessary for the extensive work spanning decades aimed at decommissioning the facility.

Despite assurances by Japan and the approval of a two-year International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation which deemed the water safe to release, some neighbouring countries have expressed scepticism over the plan, with Beijing emerging as the biggest critic.

The chief executive of Hong Kong, John Lee, said the release was “irresponsible” and posed “impossible risks to food safety and the irreparable pollution and destruction of the marine environment”.

On Wednesday, Beijing summoned the Japanese ambassador over the discharge of water.

“Vice foreign minister Sun Weidong summoned Japan’s ambassador to China, Hideo Tarumi, to make solemn representations regarding the Japanese government’s announcement that it would initiate the discharge of Fukushima’s nuclear-contaminated water into the sea,” a foreign ministry statement said on Wednesday.

Despite sweltering heat, hundreds of Japanese citizens from various regions of the country gathered in front of the Tepco headquarters in central Tokyo on Thursday morning, China’s Xinhua reported. The protesters urged the authorities to stop the ocean release.

Police grapple with students attempting to break into the Japanese embassy in Seoul

The water has undergone treatment using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), a method designed to eliminate radioactive elements except for tritium.

In the upcoming month, Tepco will conduct daily measurements of tritium levels near the water-release outlet about a kilometre off the coast.

“In addition to those who will actually handle the operations, we are preparing to release information without delay,” Junichi Matsumoto, the Tepco official in charge of the water-discharge project, said at a news conference before the process started, Asahi Shimbun reported.

“We would like to proceed with a great sense of urgency,” he added.

Earlier, the Japanese government upheld the neutrality of the final report from the United Nations nuclear agency, which maintained that Japan’s water-release plan adhered to international safety norms.

South Korean police detain protesters outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul

Japanese authorities also refuted claims that the country exerted pressure on the IAEA to release solely positive findings, denying any allegations of bias.

On Thursday, however, Greenpeace said that the radiological risks have not been fully assessed and that the biological impacts of tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90 and iodine-129 – to be released with the water – “have been ignored”.

The process of water disposal is a lengthy endeavour that will span decades, involving continuous filtration and dilution, in addition to the planned decommissioning of the plant.

Tepco said that the process of the wastewater discharge will be halted in the event of natural disasters or abnormalities.

Meanwhile, fishing communities in Fukushima have expressed opposition to the plan as well. In fact, polls have revealed that these concerns are widely shared among the general populace.

A protester is carried out of the Japanese embassy in Seoul

Masanobu Sakamoto, the leader of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, stated on Monday that while the group understands the potential scientific safety of the release, they remain concerned about the potential harm to their reputation.

In a recent Kyodo poll conducted over the weekend, 88.1 per cent of respondents expressed anxiety about the potential economic repercussions arising from the release. China and Hong Kong have already tightened their restrictions on imports.

South Korea on Wednesday stepped up protests against Japan, calling Tokyo’s plan to discharge water from the Fukushima plant an act of “terror”.

“We intend to hold the Yoon government responsible for failing to do its duties,” opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung said at a party meeting.

Additional reporting by agencies

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