Fish auction prices at a port south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant fell on Friday as uncertainty looms over consumer reactions to the release of treated and diluted radioactive wastewater into the ocean. The Fukushima plant, damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, began discharging radioactive treated water into the Pacific on Thursday. Triggering protests domestically and internationally, thereby compounding economic concerns.
Hideaki Igari, a middleman at the Numanouchi fishing port, reported a more than 10% drop in the prices of flounder. Famously known as Joban-mono, at the morning auction on Friday. This auction marked the first since the water release began. The decades-long release has faced staunch opposition from fishing groups and criticism from neighbouring countries. China, in response, promptly imposed a ban on seafood imports from Japan. Intensifying worries within the fisheries community and related industries.
Concerns over Radiation
A citizens’ radiation testing centre is receiving inquiries, and more individuals may bring in food, water, and other samples for testing as radiation data becomes a critical factor in food choices. Japanese fishing groups are anxious that the release will further damage the reputation of seafood from the Fukushima region. They are still recovering from the fallout of the meltdown at the power plant following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Hideaki Igari expressed these concerns, saying, “We now have this water after all these years of struggle when the fish market price is finally becoming stable. Fisheries people fear that prices of the fish they catch for their living may crash again, and worry about their future living.”
Reasons for the Release
Both the Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, argue that the water must be released to clear space for the facility’s decommissioning and to prevent accidental leaks of insufficiently treated water. A significant portion of the tank-held water still contains radioactive materials exceeding allowable levels.
Some of the wastewater at the plant is recycled as a coolant after treatment. While the rest is stored in approximately 1,000 tanks, which are nearly at 98% of their 1.37 million-ton capacity. These tanks occupy a substantial portion of the complex and must be emptied to make way for new facilities required for the decommissioning process.
Authorities maintain that the post-treatment and diluted wastewater is safer than international standards require, with a negligible environmental impact. The power company reported that the first seawater samples collected after the release were significantly below the legally allowable levels. However, deep-seated resentment and distrust of the government and TEPCO persist in Fukushima. Particularly within the fishing community, due to earlier accidental and intentional releases of contaminated water from the plant during the disaster.
A Bleak Future for Fukushima’s Fishing Towns
Worries persist that the 30-year timeline for the release, running until the end of the plant’s decommissioning, could spell a difficult future for younger generations in the fishing town. Their many businesses are family-run. Fukushima’s current catch is only about one-fifth of its pre-disaster levels. Primarily due to a decline in the number of fishermen and diminishing catch sizes.
As the release of radioactive wastewater continues to stir controversy and economic concerns, Fukushima’s fishing community grapples with an uncertain future.