Japan set to release Fukushima water amid criticism, seafood import bans 

Protesters hold placards that read "No radiation contaminated water into the sea" during a rally against Japan's plan to discharge treated radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, in front of the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant in Tokyo, Japan, August 24, 2023Reuters

Japan said it would start releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday as planned, drawing fresh criticism from China, which called the move "selfish and irresponsible". 

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) 9501.T said the release would start around 1 p.m. local time (0400 GMT). 

Japan has maintained that the water release is safe, while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, also greenlighted the plan in July saying the impact it would have on people and the environment was "negligible." 

Still, Japanese fishing groups have said they fear the release would lead to reputational damage and a loss of sales, including from export restrictions to major markets. Hong Kong and Macau - both Chinese-ruled regions - are set to implement a ban on Japanese seafood from regions including the capital Tokyo and Fukushima starting Thursday. 

Through a spokesperson, China's nuclear safety administration on Thursday called the Japanese government "extremely selfish and irresponsible in forcibly launching the discharge ... putting its own selfish interests above the well-being of all mankind." 

China said it would also take necessary measures to protect marine environment, food safety and public health, and would step up monitoring of radiation levels in its waters following the discharge. 

Tokyo has in turn criticised China for spreading "scientifically unfounded claims." 

Decades Long Process 

The water is due to be released in smaller portions initially and with extra checks. The first discharge totalling 7,800 cubic metres - the equivalent of about three Olympic swimming pools of water - will take place over about 17 days. 

According to Tepco test results released on Thursday, that water contains about up to 63 becquerels of tritium per litre, below the World Health Organisation drinking water limit of 10,000 becquerels per litre. A becquerel is a unit of radioactivity. 

Tepco expects the process of releasing the wastewater - currently totally more than 1.3 million metric tons - to take decades. 

Civic groups have launched protests in Japan and South Korea, although South Korea's government has said its own assessment found no problems with the scientific and technical aspects of the release. 

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was destroyed in March 2011 after a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the Japanese coast generated powerful tsunami waves that caused the meltdowns of three of its reactors. 

The water release is a key step in a dauntingly long and difficult process of decommissioning the plant, including the removal of molten fuel.