TOKYO (AP) — The head of Japan's national fisheries cooperatives has reiterated his group's opposition to the planned discharge of treated radioactive water into the sea from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, demanding the government take full responsibility for any negative impact on the industry.
"We cannot support the government's stance that an ocean release is the only solution," said Masanobu Sakamoto, president of JF Zengyoren, or the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives.
A release is expected to begin this summer, though the exact date has not been set.
Sakamoto met Economy and Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Thursday and handed him a statement of objection to the treated wastewater release plan.
"Whether to release the water into the sea or not is a government decision, and in that case we want the government to fully take responsibility," he told reporters after meeting with Nishimura.
Japan's government announced plans in April 2021 to gradually release the treated but still slightly radioactive water following its dilution to what it says are safe levels that are well within international standards.
Japanese officials say the water, currently stored in about a thousand tanks at the plant, needs to be removed to prevent accidental leaks in case of an earthquake and to make room for the plant's decommissioning.
The plan has faced fierce protests from local fishing communities concerned about safety and reputational damage. Nearby countries, including South Korea, China and some of the Pacific Island nations, have also raised safety concerns, and on Friday South Korean fishing vessels staged a protest against the plan.
Japan's government says it has set up a fund to promote Fukushima seafood and to provide compensation in case sales fall due to safety concerns.
Nishimura, during his meeting Thursday with Sakamoto, said "The planned ocean release of the water is unavoidable in order to achieve decomissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi and reconstruction of Fukushima."
Nishimura said he recognizes the serious concerns of fishing communities and that the government will tackle the project to help them maintain their livelihoods sustainably and with sense of safety in the future.
He met with fisheries officials in Fukushima and neighboring Miyagi and Ibaraki prefectures earlier this month and also faced opposition to the release plan. Nishimura said he hoped to gain the understanding of fishing communities while working to prevent reputational damage.
Japanese officials say the diluted water will be released into the ocean over decades, making it harmless to people and marine life. Japan has sought support from the International Atomic Energy Agency to gain credibility and ensure safety measures meet international standards.
Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to radionuclides is unknown and the release should be delayed. Others who say the release plan is deemed safe also call for more transparency, including allowing outside scientists to join sampling and monitoring.
A massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt and their cooling water to be contaminated and leak continually. The water is collected, treated and stored in the tanks, which will reach storage capacity in early 2024.