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Fukushima residents show caution after destroyed nuclear power plant begins discharging treated sewage

IWAKI, Japan — Fish prices at auction at a port south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were mixed on Friday, amid uncertainty over seafood consumers’ reaction to the release of treated and diluted radioactive sewage into the ‘ocean.

The plant, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, began sending treated water to the Pacific on Thursday, despite protests at home and in neighboring countries which are adding to political pressure and economic worries.

Hideaki Igari, a middleman at Numanouchi fishing port, said the price of the biggest flounder, Fukushima’s signature fish known as Joban-mono, was more than 10% lower at the auction of Friday morning, the first since the start of the water release. Prices for some medium-sized plaice have increased, but likely due to a limited catch, Igari says. Others have fallen.

Market reaction to the water release was relatively calm. But, Igari said, “we still have to see how it goes next week.”

This release, which has lasted for several decades, has been strongly contested by fishing groups and criticized by neighboring countries. In response, China immediately banned seafood imports from Japan, adding to concerns from the fishing community and associated businesses.

A citizen radiation testing center said it is receiving inquiries and expects more people to bring food, water and other samples as radiation data is now available. a key barometer for knowing what to eat.

Japanese fishing groups fear the release will further damage the reputation of seafood products from the Fukushima region. They are still struggling to repair the damage caused to their businesses by the power plant meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami.

“We now have this water after all these years of struggle and the price of fish in the market has finally become stable,” Igari said after Friday’s auction. their future life.

The Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, say the water needs to be drained to allow the facility to be decommissioned and to prevent accidental leaks of insufficiently treated water. Much of the water in the reservoirs still contains radioactive material above discharge levels.

Part of the plant’s wastewater is recycled as coolant after treatment, and the rest is stored in approximately 1,000 tanks, filled to 98% of their 1.37 million tonne capacity. The tanks cover much of the complex and need to be emptied to make way for new facilities needed for the decommissioning process, officials say.

Authorities say the wastewater after treatment and dilution is safer than required by international standards and its environmental impact will be negligible. On Friday, the first seawater samples collected after the discharge were significantly below legal discharge levels, the power company said.

But after suffering a series of accidental and intentional releases of contaminated water from the plant at the start of the disaster, resentment and mistrust of the government and TEPCO run deep in Fukushima, especially in the community. fishermen.

TEPCO says the release will take 30 years, until the decommissioning of the plant is complete. People fear this will mean a tough future for young people in the fishing town, where many businesses are run by families.

Current catches from Fukushima are already only about a fifth of their pre-disaster level due to a decline in the number of fishermen and a shrinking size of catches.

The government has allocated 80 billion yen ($550 million) to support fishing and seafood processing, and to tackle potential reputational damage by sponsoring campaigns to promote Joban-mono and seafood processed seafood from Fukushima. TEPCO promised to address reputational damage claims, as well as those affected by China’s export ban.

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima prefectural fishing cooperatives, said in a statement on Thursday that concerns from the fishing community would persist as long as the water was released.

“Our only wish is to continue fishing for generations in our hometown, as we did before the accident,” Nozaki said.

Fish prices largely depend on the opinion of wholesalers and consumers in the Tokyo area, where much of Fukushima’s catch is destined.

At Friday’s auction at Numanouchi Port, the price of flounder fell from its usual level of around 3,500 yen ($24) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to around 3,000 yen ($20). , said Igari, the intermediary.

“I suspect that this result is due to the start of the discharge of treated water from Fukushima Daiichi and the fear of its impact,” he said.

Igari said the rejection is disheartening, but hopes careful testing can prove the safety of their fish. “From a consumer perspective on food safety at home, I think the best barometer is data,” he said.

At Mother’s Radiation Lab Fukushima in Iwaki, a citizen testing center known as Tarachine, tests were being carried out on water samples, including seawater tritium levels that the lab had collected just side of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant before the release.

Lab director Ai Kimura said anyone can bring food, water or even soil, although the lab has major delays as testing takes time.

She joined the lab after regretting that she had not fully protected her daughters due to lack of information and knowledge at the start of the disaster. She says having independent test results is important not out of mistrust of government data, but because “we have learned over the past 12 years the importance of testing in order to get data” on this. mothers want to know to serve safe and healthy food to their children. children and families.

Kimura said people have different views on security: some accept government standards, others want them to be as close to zero as possible.

“It is very difficult to make everyone feel safe. … That’s why we’re doing testing so we can visualize food data from different places and help people have more options to make a decision,” she said.

Kimura said lab tests showed Fukushima fish to be safe for the past few years and she happily ate local fish.

“It’s perfectly fine to eat fish that doesn’t contain radiation,” she said.

But now discharges of treated sewage will raise new questions, she said.

Aeon, a major supermarket chain that tests cesium and iodine levels in fish, has announced plans to also test for tritium, a radionuclide inseparable from water.

Katsumasa Okawa, a fishmonger and restaurateur who was at one of his four stores on Thursday, said customers were scarce after the plant began its final stages of discharging treated water at 1 p.m. media covered the development.

But on Friday, he said, his seafood restaurant Yamako, located next to the main Iwaki station, appeared to be operating as usual, with customers coming in and out at lunchtime.

Okawa said he looked forward to the sewage disposal as it is a big step towards decommissioning the nuclear plant. “I feel more comfortable thinking that these tanks will finally go away.”

Okawa, who said she voluntarily tested her products for several years after the disaster, worries about the return to the days of radiation testing and data as a benchmark for what to eat.

“I think too much test data just causes concern,” he said. “I’m confident in what I’m selling and I’m just going to get on with my job.”

Some say they want to eat good fish and not worry.

Bus driver Hideki Tanaka, on vacation and fishing at another Iwaki port in Onagawa, said he hoped to catch horse mackerel.

“If you worry too much, you can’t eat fish from just anywhere,” he said.

ABC News

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