Japan launches extensive campaign to promote safety of Fukushima wastewater release


In an effort to address public skepticism surrounding the release of treated radioactive wastewater from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima plant into the ocean, Japan has initiated a series of advertising campaigns and public events. With plans to commence the release as early as August, the Japanese government aims to convince the public of the safety measures in place.

The campaign includes television and railway station broadcasts detailing the release, as well as a livestream showcasing fish living in a tank filled with the treated wastewater. Articles published in newspapers also serve as evidence supporting the government’s assertion of the plan’s safety.

Various public events and festivals have been organized to engage with the community. Nationally, high schools have hosted forums to educate and encourage the younger generation to think critically about the issue, as they will bear the responsibility for the future. These multifaceted efforts are intended to alleviate concerns regarding Japan’s proposal to release over 1.3 million tonnes of treated radioactive water into the Pacific. The plan has faced condemnation both domestically and internationally.

The Japanese government remains steadfast in asserting the safety of the process. The accumulated water, equivalent to 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, was previously used to cool the fuel rods of the Fukushima plant following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The water has undergone treatment using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which has effectively removed the majority of radioactive nuclides.

Recently, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), validated Japan’s plan after a two-year review. The IAEA concluded that the release would have a minimal radiological impact on people and the environment, a viewpoint supported by scientists. Despite these reassurances and the government’s allocation of approximately 3 billion yen ($20 million) towards public relations projects, neighboring countries such as China and South Korea continue to express criticism. Such opposition poses a significant challenge for Japan’s efforts to convince the general public of the plan’s safety.

China, in particular, strongly opposes the wastewater release, accusing Japan of prioritizing cost savings over international concerns and treating the Pacific Ocean as a dumping ground. South Korea, on the other hand, has stated its respect for the IAEA’s conclusions following its own assessment of Japan’s discharge plan. However, consumers in South Korea have responded by panic-buying sea salt due to fears of contamination, leading to a 27 percent increase in salt prices in June compared to two months prior.

At home, the Japanese government has engaged with fishermen, who are among the most vocal critics of the proposed discharge. Fishermen’s unions are concerned about potential damage to their reputation, recalling the bans imposed on their products by several countries in the aftermath of the 2011 disaster. To mitigate these risks, the government has established funds to support the fishing industry and has organized food tourism events. Additionally, influential individuals have been enlisted to promote the safety of Fukushima’s food, even after the wastewater release.

Despite these initiatives, some critics, including freelance journalist Shohei Makiuchi, view the Japanese government’s tactics as mere propaganda. Makiuchi asserts that instead of fostering an open discussion about the best course of action for the treated radioactive wastewater, the government is unilaterally proclaiming its safety. Similar concerns are voiced by Bedi Racule, an antinuclear activist from the Marshall Islands, who suggests that Japan and other powerful nations may be employing development assistance as a means to pursue their own interests, potentially harming Pacific nations.

While the effectiveness of the advertising campaign in swaying public opinion remains uncertain, recent polls indicate a gradual shift in attitudes. A February 2022 poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun showed a majority of respondents opposing the discharge (45 percent), but in March of this year, more people supported the release (51 percent). Radiochemist Paul Dickman, who has provided advice on nuclear waste cleanup in Fukushima, supports Japan’s plan, highlighting that the release of low-trace tritium into the ocean aligns with standard practices already implemented by countries like China and South Korea. Dickman emphasizes that the treated wastewater will be diluted to levels well below global safety limits and released over an extended period, minimizing any potential impact on human health.

As the Fukushima plant is owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), some scientists remain skeptical about the release, citing TEPCO’s communication track record and the belief that the disaster could have been prevented. Transparency in sampling and monitoring is called for, while concerns persist regarding the long-term effects of radionuclide exposure.

Earlier this year, an independent panel of scientists advising the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional bloc comprising 17 island nations, urged Japan to delay the release due to insufficient data proving its harmlessness. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged these concerns during a meeting with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, emphasizing Japan’s commitment to public safety and promising to provide transparent explanations based on scientific evidence.

Director General Grossi is currently on a visit to South Korea, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands to provide reassurances about the discharge. Meanwhile, South Korean legislators are in Japan this week to express their objections and call for more expert organizations to review the discharge plan. Convincing skeptics of the benefits of the plan will likely require more than a livestream of Fukushima fish, underscoring the ongoing challenge faced by Japan.

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