The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which serves as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, has gave Japan permission to release more than a million tonnes of “treated radioactive water” from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Due to worries about the possible effects, local fishing communities as well as other nations, including China and South Korea, who share international seas, have expressed opposition to this permission.

Following a safety evaluation, the IAEA determined that the discharge will have little environmental impact, in line with water discharges from nuclear facilities in other areas. According to the nuclear agency, the safety evaluation addressed technical issues and clarified the science underlying the intended discharge, guaranteeing that there would be “negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”

However, local Japanese fishing communities have expressed their opposition to the initiative because they believe it will undermine the over ten-year-long efforts to rehabilitate their sector. They predict a loss of consumer confidence will result in less demand and cheaper pricing for their catch. Although the authorities in Fukushima have put in place strict radiation testing procedures, many people are still dubious about the safety of the seafood and produce from the area.

When and how will this radioactive water be released?

The flow of water will start before the end of the summer, according to the Japanese government. On Friday, the nation’s Nuclear Regulation Authority declared that the buildings and machinery required for the water discharge had successfully passed their inspections.

Japan has said that the water will be filtered to remove the bulk of radioactive materials before being released into the ocean, with the exception of tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is difficult to separate from water. The levels of the treated water will be much reduced to those that are accepted worldwide.

What is Tritium?

Tritium is considered to be relatively harmless because it does not emit enough energy to penetrate human skin. But when ingested – via seafood, for example – it can raise cancer risks, according to The Guardian report that quoted a Scientific American article said in 2014.

Objection from China, South Korea

The IAEA’s report has received strong criticism from Beijing, which believes that endorsing a plan with potential risks to marine life and human health is “unacceptable”, despite Japan and the IAEA assuring minimal environmental impact.

Due to safety concerns, China announced on Friday that it will enhance its scrutiny of food imports from Japan. The country’s customs authority stated that it would impose a ban on food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures affected by the water release and enforce strict radiation tests on food from the remaining regions of Japan.

In response to the planned water release, hundreds of people in South Korea’s capital protested on Saturday, demanding Japan to abandon its intentions. Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear agency held discussions with senior officials regarding public concerns over food safety.

On Friday morning, South Korea said that Japan’s plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant complies with international safety requirements and that it respects the UN nuclear watchdog’s approval of the release. Following its own assessment and recent initiatives to enhance bilateral ties between the two Northeast Asian nations, South Korea gave its support.

Fukushima meltdown

On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 took place, causing a damaging tsunami that harmed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s cooling and power systems. Reactors No. 1, 2, and 3 melted down as a result, releasing a large amount of radioactivity. A total of 1.33 million cubic metres of water, including precipitation, groundwater, and water used for cooling, have collected at this nuclear reactor.

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