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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 | , , , | Leave a comment

Businesses worry about reputational damage from Fukushima water discharge

Seiji Suzuki checks on his baby sardine catches at the Otsu fishing port in Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Sep 26, 2022

The plan to discharge treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean has been met with a wave of opposition, not only from residents of Fukushima Prefecture, but also those living in neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture.

Businesses in Ibaraki are calling for a fostering of public understanding and providing consumers with a sense of security to prevent harmful rumors from spreading.

At the Otsu fishing port in Kitaibaraki, which borders the southern part of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, containers of freshly caught baby sardines are brought into processing plants one after another. The silver-colored fish shine under the late August sunlight and its lingering summer heat.

“We want to offer a taste of fresh, in-season fish,” said fisherman Seiji Suzuki, 31, who was busy landing his catches.

While keeping himself busy in a bustle of the port, Suzuki cannot shake off his anxiety about the future, as the Fukushima No. 1 plant, located about 70 kilometers away, plans to discharge processed water containing radioactive tritium into the ocean as early as next spring.

“The ocean (off the coast of Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures) is connected. If the water is released, the image of seafood from Ibaraki Prefecture will be tarnished, and sales will be hit again,” Suzuki lamented.

According to the Otsu Fisheries Cooperative, seafood from Ibaraki Prefecture, like that from Fukushima Prefecture, is distributed throughout Japan as “Joban-mono,” referring to the seafood culled from the waters off the coast of both prefectures.

Major species from Ibaraki Prefecture include baby sardine, flounder, and anglerfish. “It’s almost the same as those in Fukushima,” a member of the fisheries cooperative said.

Ibaraki Prefecture’s fisheries output declined by about 30% after the Fukushima meltdown disaster, according to the fisheries ministry. Since 2012, the output has gradually recovered, and in recent years it has exceeded the pre-accident level due to an increase in fish catches.

However, radiation sampling inspections for almost all edible fish species are still being conducted. According to Ibaraki Prefecture, there has not been a discussion about abolishing the inspections. “Many consumers are concerned about the safety of seafood. This is even more so since there are plans to discharge treated water into the ocean,” a prefectural official said.

According to a survey conducted by the Ibaraki Shimbun newspaper of voters in the prefecture at the time of Upper House election this summer, 44.3% of respondents were opposed to the water discharge, more than the 35.5% who were supportive. The remaining 20.2% said that they were not sure or gave no answer. By age and gender, young respondents and women were particularly cautious about the water discharge.

Yoshinori Sakamoto, director of the Otsu Fisheries Cooperative, stresses there is no border between waters off Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures. “If treated water is released into the ocean, Ibaraki seafood will suffer reputational damages as well,” he said.

The government may disseminate information about the scientific safety of the products, but unless the information is widely shared by consumers and a sense of security is fostered, consumers will be reluctant to buy the products, which will lead to price falls, he said.

Looking back on the many years of suffering from harmful rumors following the Fukushima nuclear accident, Sakamoto said, “We have finally come this far. It is a matter of life and death, and I am opposed to the water release under the current situation, where providing consumers with a sense of security is not guaranteed.”

A third nightmare

This is not the first time Ibaraki Prefecture has faced reputational damage from nuclear incidents. The September 1999 criticality accident at JCO, a nuclear fuel processing company in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, caused extensive damages to residents and businesses in the region.

In the accident at the Tokai Plant of JCO, three workers were heavily exposed to radiation after a nuclear fission chain reaction occurred by accident, and two of them subsequently died. More than 600 residents of the surrounding area were also exposed to radiation, and more than 300,000 residents were forced to evacuate or stay indoors.

According to a report by Ibaraki Prefecture, a wide range of industries were affected, including agriculture, livestock, fisheries, commerce and tourism, with damages totaling more than ¥15 billion.

Businesses affected by the JCO criticality accident and the Fukushima No. 1 meltdown disaster are deeply concerned about a “third nightmare” from the planned discharge of treated water from the Fukushima plant.

Chizuko Suda runs a seafood restaurant in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Chizuko Suda, 57, who runs a seafood restaurant near the Nakaminato fishing port in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, is one of those who experienced the reputational damage caused by the 1999 incident.

Suda’s restaurant is located about 15 km south of the JCO plant. She remembers that the number of customers dropped to less than half of what it was before the accident, although she does not know the amount of damage because she was not the owner at the time. “It took three years for things to get back to normal,” she recalls.

Twelve years after the JCO accident, the Fukushima No. 1 accident struck. Almost every day, tourists asked if it was safe to visit the area around her restaurant and if the seafood was safe. Each time, she told them that tests for radioactive materials had confirmed that the area was safe to visit. Even so, sales dropped to 20% to 30% of what they were before the accident. Once again, she felt the pain of harmful rumors.

After going through such experiences twice, Suda wonders if there is any way to prevent it from happening again with the release of treated water into the ocean. The key is to foster public understanding, she says. “If it is scientifically safe, that fact should be released nationwide. This would be an opportunity for the public to think about the water discharge issue as their own.”

She has relatives in the coastal areas of Fukushima Prefecture, and she feels that it is “unacceptable to force only the people in Fukushima to bear the burden.”

Meanwhile, the fishing industry is not the only businesses concerned about the impact of water discharge.

Hiroyuki Onizawa, 60, a dried sweet potato processor in Hitachinaka who was affected by both accidents, also urges the government to take a cautious approach. “It would be better not to discharge,” he says, stressing that the image of Ibaraki Prefecture could be worsened.

Yoshihisa Takeshi, 46, who runs an inn in Kitaibaraki that offers Joban-mono anglerfish as its specialty, feels the need to dispose of treated water. “We have no choice but to discharge it,” he said.

On the other hand, he called on the government to provide support for a wide range of businesses in addition to taking measures against harmful rumors. The discharge “will definitely have a negative effect,” he said.

October 1, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fisheries opposed to Fukushima water discharge, trade group tells PM

Hiroshi Kishi, head of the national fisheries cooperatives, speaks to reporters after a meeting with industry minister Koichi Hagiuda in Tokyo on April 5, 2022.

April 5, 2022

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A major fisheries group in Japan told Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Tuesday it remains firmly opposed to the planned discharge of treated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea due to concern over negative impact on the industry.

“I told (Kishida) our position to oppose (the discharge) remains exactly the same,” Hiroshi Kishi, head of the national fisheries cooperatives, told reporters after visiting the prime minister’s office.

It was the first meeting between the head of the national fisheries cooperatives and Japan’s prime minister since April last year when the decision was made to release treated low-level radioactive water into the sea from around the spring of 2023.

Then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the policy without gaining consent from the fisheries group.

Kishida said the government will be fully responsible for the impact of the discharged treated water and vowed to support fishermen, according to Kishi and officials who attended the meeting.

“Steady progress in the decommissioning (of the Fukushima plant) is a prerequisite for reconstruction (of the affected areas), and we cannot avoid the issue of how to dispose of treated water,” Kishida said. “We will continue to exchange opinions and will make all-out efforts to tackle harmful rumors.”

Earlier in the day, Kishi conveyed similar concern to industry minister Koichi Hagiuda. “We just hope people in the fisheries industry will be able to continue fishing with peace of mind,” he told reporters after seeing Hagiuda in the federation’s office in Tokyo.

During the meeting, Hagiuda handed the group answers in writing to five requests it had submitted.

The government pledged in the document to ensure the safety of treated water as well as take appropriate measures to prevent and tackle reputational damage to food products, among others.

Hagiuda also told the federation it will stick to its promise to the fishermen that the Fukushima plant will not release the water into the sea without their understanding.

The minister told reporters that Kishi “understands the recovery of Fukushima will not complete without disposal of treated water” and expressed hope that the government will “clear anxiety of fishermen by taking appropriate measures.”

The government has already set up a 30 billion yen ($245 million) fund to support the fisheries industry and pledged to buy seafood when demand falls due to harmful rumors.

In the meantime, more than 1 million tons of treated water has accumulated on the premises of the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.

The water, which was contaminated after being pumped in to cool melted reactor fuel, is treated through an advanced liquid processing system that removes radionuclides except for tritium.

Before discharge, it will be diluted with seawater below one 40th of the current regulations, according to the government. It will also be lower than the World Health Organization’s tritium limit in drinking water.

Earlier this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency evaluated the safety of the release of treated water by sending a task force to the Fukushima plant to enhance transparency of the discharge plan and gain international understanding.

In addition to Japan’s local fishing communities, neighboring China and South Korea have also expressed their worries over the water discharge plan.

April 9, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Radioactive water threatens Fukushima fishery’s fragile gains福島水揚げ②20181102134505887_Data.jpg

November 4, 2018
Plant operator plans to dump contaminated water into the ocean
TOKYO — Since a catastrophic nuclear accident seven years ago, Fukushima fishermen have made painstaking efforts to rebuild their livelihood, assiduously testing the radioactivity levels of their catches to ensure safety. Now, rapidly accumulating wastewater from the crippled power plant is again threatening this hard-won business recovery.
Faced with the prospect that there will be no more space to store tanks containing radioactive water leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings and the Japanese government are considering diluting the water and dumping it into the ocean.
Even though Fukushima’s fishery has been recovering, the haul throughout the entire prefecture amounted to about 3,300 tons last year, just 10% of the average prior to the 2011 disaster. And even reaching there has not been easy.
Fish markets in the prefecture now house testing rooms filled with equipment. Staff members mince seafood caught every morning to screen for radioactivity. Such painstaking efforts gradually enabled fishermen to return to the sea, with all fishing and farming operations resuming in February this year.
But the trend could reverse if the government goes through with plans to release nuclear wastewater into the sea.
Tepco has been cooling down the molten fuel cores by pumping water into the ruined reactors. The tainted water is later taken out and treated, but the system in place does not filter out tritium, a radioactive hydrogen isotope.
The tritium-laced water is currently stored in tanks within the premises of Fukushima Daiichi, but space is due to run out within five years.
Tritium occurs naturally and is present in rainwater in the atmosphere. The chemical is not known to accumulate within living things, and it is assumed that it can be safely released in the ocean if properly diluted. Nuclear plants in France and elsewhere normally empty treated tritium wastewater into the sea.
Resolving the wastewater issue is a key step in achieving a sustainable fishing revival in Fukushima, according to Shuji Okuda, an official in charge of decommissioning and wastewater management at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
“I understand that we should cooperate for revival,” one Fukushima fisher said.
“But I’m afraid of the damage to our reputation,” this fisher said. “I don’t want them to dump anything into the ocean.”
The waters off the coast of Fukushima teem with about 200 species of fish and shellfish, such as flounder, saury and surf clam.
Despite such abundant marine resources, demand for Fukushima seafood has yet to fully recover. At Tokyo’s Toyosu market, wholesale prices for fish caught in the prefecture sell for about 30% cheaper than product from neighboring areas, according to a major wholesaler. Some distributors do not stock up on the prefecture’s seafood for fear of driving away customers.
Before the nuclear accident, fishing boats from other prefectures would visit Fukushima harbors. Now, “they have all but vanished,” said a representative at the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations.
Japan’s trading partners are slowly normalizing restrictions on Fukushima exports — Russia lifted its remaining ban in March. But despite the scientific verification of safety, many localities still block Fukushima marine products.
In turn, domestic lobbying groups are resisting plans to discharge nuclear wastewater into the ocean — at least not until there is consensus at home and abroad that the practice is safe. “As a national representative of fishers, we oppose it,” said JF Zengyoren, the nationwide federation of fishing cooperatives.
“The reputational risk is still at hand,” said Tetsuji Suzuki, managing director at the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations.
“Revival should come after disaster recovery,” Suzuki said.

November 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | 1 Comment