Official South Korean endorsement of the plan has done little to reassure the public, as officials face panic buying, protests and consumer boycotts. Some stores even ran out of sea salt and imposed a purchase limit.
Separately, China has banned seafood exports from several Japanese prefectures and Hong Kong followed suit after Tokyo won approval from the UN nuclear watchdog last week for its plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant destroyed by tsunami in the Pacific Ocean.
The Japanese government and the operator of the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, have said that the water, which currently sits in hundreds of tanks on land, must be removed to prevent accidental leaks and make room for the dismantling of the plant. plant.
But despite their assurances that the plant meets international safety standards and support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, several Asian countries remain unconvinced, imposing export bans on shellfish caught in various regions of Japan and imposing additional food safety inspections on food from the Fukushima region.
Leading the charge is China, which has fiercely opposed the plan. Its customs agency promised on Friday that it would take «all necessary measures» to allay the concerns of its consumers. This included a de facto ban on imports from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima.
«Twelve years later, Japan has chosen to transfer the risk of nuclear contamination to all of humanity,» Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference last week.
Li Fengmin, a professor of physics and marine biology at China’s Ocean University, told NBC News that he was concerned that the IAEA would issue its recommendations under pressure from the Japanese government.
«My personal concern is that there could be political, economic or diplomatic games hidden behind the IAEA conclusion,» he said, adding that Japan was dumping the sewage because it was «a more cost-effective option.»
In one of the world’s worst disasters, on March 11, 2011, the region was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the strongest in Japan’s history. A deadly wall of water then crashed through the walls of the nuclear plant, knocking out power, including backup generators, and flooding parts of the facility. Three nuclear reactors melted down, spewing radioactive particles into the air.
Authorities acted quickly, cleaning the buildings and removing about 4 inches of dirt and vegetation from the surrounding area. But the massive cleanup, compensation and decommissioning generated massive costs for TEPCO and last year a Japanese court ruled that the disaster could have been avoided if the company had taken due care.
In line with Beijing’s decision to ban Japanese seafood, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday that the city will ban «a large amount of prefectural seafood» from Japan due to sewage discharge. from Fukushima.
And last week, a fish market in south korea he tested his shellfish for radiation to allay fears. This occurred despite an assessment by the South Korean government concluding that the release of sewage would have a «negligible» impact on its water.
Some Japanese fishing organizations, concerned about the reputation of their catches, have also criticized the plan.
However, experts have insisted that it is safe.
The levels of radiation that would actually pose a risk to human health are «thousands of times more» than will be released, said Robin Grimes, a professor of materials physics at Imperial College London who was also part of the response group. Great Britain emergency. to Fukushima.
Nigel Marks, an associate professor at Curtin University in Australia, added that the radiation exposure is equal to or even less than levels from a dental X-ray.
Japan is implementing a specialized system called the advanced liquid processing system, which according to the IAEA report, is a «pump and filter system» that uses a series of chemical reactions to remove various radioactive substances from the water..
The increase in radioactivity will be «very, very small,» said Mark Foreman, associate professor of energy and materials at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. He added that substances like tritium, which cannot be removed by the advanced liquid processing system, will be greatly diluted in the Pacific.
However, Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said he was «disappointed» that other alternatives, such as using the water to make concrete, «were not fully considered,» adding that the advanced processing system of liquids had not yet proven its effectiveness.
Japan hopes to start releasing the water this summer and continue to do so for many decades.
«Having to keep it going for two or three hundred years when the tritium becomes undetectable is crazy,» Grimes said.
«The risk would be even less than other plants around the world because the Japanese have removed those radioactive species to a greater extent,» he added.