Japan began releasing wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, prompting a furious China to ban all seafood imports from its neighbour.
The start of the discharge of around 540 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water over several decades is a big step in decommissioning the still highly dangerous site 12 years after one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.
Live video provided by plant operator TEPCO showed two engineers clicking on computer mouses and an official saying — after a countdown — that the “valves near the seawater transport pumps are opening”.
Japan has repeatedly insisted the wastewater is treated and will be harmless, a position backed by UN atomic watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The IAEA said on Thursday that new on-site tests had confirmed the levels of radioactive tritium in the water being discharged were safe.
But China has warned the release will contaminate the ocean, and immediately responded Thursday by blasting Japan as “extremely selfish”.
It then banned all Japanese seafood imports “to comprehensively prevent the food safety risks of radioactive contamination” — with Japan hours later demanding China lift the ban.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry likewise criticised the release, urging Japan to call it off.
Local fishermen in Japan have also voiced opposition.
About 10 people held a protest near Fukushima on Thursday and around 100 others gathered outside TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo.
“It’s like dumping an atomic bomb in the ocean. Japan is the first country that was attacked with an atomic bomb in the world, and the prime minister of the country made this decision,” said Kenichi Sato, 68, in Tokyo.
Three reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi facility in northeastern Japan went into meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed around 18,000 people in 2011.
Since then, TEPCO has collected 1.34 million cubic metres of water that was contaminated as it cooled the wrecked reactors, along with groundwater and rain that has seeped in.
Japan says that all radioactive elements have been filtered out except the tritium, levels of which are harmless and lower than what is discharged by operational nuclear power plants — including in China.
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