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Miyagi fisheries industry fears impact of treated radioactive water release

Yoshihiro Watanabe, a breeder of sea squirts, in the Yoriisohama district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture

Dec 12, 2022

Yoshihiro Watanabe, 61, is a breeder of sea squirts, the leading product for the aquaculture industry in Miyagi Prefecture.

Looking toward the sea in the Yoriisohama coastal district in the city of Ishinomaki, Watanabe expressed concerns over a plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The water, which contains hard-to-remove tritium, is expected to be discharged to the ocean from the nuclear plant, located some 120 kilometers away in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture, as early as next spring.

“We are already on the verge of going out of business,” Watanabe said. “It will be a matter of life and death if the treated water is released into the ocean in such a situation and domestic consumption drops.”

About six weeks earlier, officials from the central government visited Miyagi Prefecture to explain how the issue of treated water is being handled. But a sea squirt producers’ group under the Miyagi Fisheries Cooperative, which Watanabe belongs to, refused to meet them amid feelings of distrust toward the government, which decided on the water release without the consent of the local fisheries industry.

Preparations are moving forward after Fukushima Prefecture and the towns hosting the nuclear plant in August approved a plan by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), the plant’s operator, to start building a facility for releasing the water.

“Is this how the water discharge starts?” Watanabe said.

Prior to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns, Miyagi Prefecture had been the nation’s No. 2 fisheries producer in terms of volume.

Annual production of sea squirts, also known as sea pineapples, in the prefecture totaled 12,000 tons, of which 7,000 tons were exported to South Korea.

However, South Korea banned imports of the product following the nuclear accident and the sales channel remains suspended to this day.

Sea squirt breeders have been forced to reduce the overall production in the prefecture to prevent oversupply, and the situation is affecting the income of those working in the fisheries industry.

According to the Miyagi Fisheries Cooperative, sea squirts are particularly popular in South Korea and almost all of the sea squirts exported from the prefecture had been shipped there.

The cooperative has sought new buyers in such countries as the United States, but it has not been able to make up for the drastic drop in overseas sales.

In some cases, large amounts of sea squirts had to be disposed of.

The nuclear disaster is having an impact even on shipments to countries and regions that no longer ban imports of Japanese products.

Miyagi Prefecture began exporting marine products to Hong Kong in 2016, but the shipments were suspended after a year. The Miyagi Food Export Promotion Council was told by distributors in Hong Kong that the products were not accepted by consumers there because they came from Miyagi Prefecture and many were left unsold.

Watanabe said that his production and sales of sea squirts dropped to less than half of the level before the nuclear disaster due to South Korea’s import ban.

The number of sea squirt growers in Yoriisohama declined to 60% of the level before the incident.

Watanabe says he can’t trust the words of the government and Tepco, despite assurances that they will do everything they can to deal with harmful rumors. He doesn’t think they’ve succeeded at tamping down rumors about the food products in the wake of the nuclear meltdowns and have yet to show effective measures for gaining understanding at home and abroad about the water release plan.

Some members of the Miyagi Fisheries Cooperative say they feel Miyagi Prefecture has been made light of, because compared with Fukushima Prefecture — which hosts the nuclear plant — there are fewer opportunities for ministers and government officials to visit.

“If treated water is released now, the local industry will be completely destroyed,” Watanabe said. “The government and Tepco should indicate to people in Miyagi engaging in the fisheries business ways to prevent harmful rumors.”

Haruhiko Terasawa, head of the fisheries cooperative, is also unhappy with the plans.

“The reality is much harsher than what the government and Tepco think,” he said. “We want them to take thorough measures so that people in the fisheries business won’t suffer losses through no fault whatsoever of their own.”

The fisheries cooperative plans to urge the government to send out correct information overseas as well as step up diplomatic negotiations and measures to deal with distribution issues.

Terasawa says he can never forget something that happened eight years ago. When a cooperative member carried flounders into a market, a distributor kicked them, saying, “We don’t need stuff like that.”

“It was humiliating,” Terasawa said. “We are worried that something like that might happen again with the release of treated water.”

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Nov. 17.


December 19, 2022 - Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , ,

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