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Fukushima plan raises livelihood worries

Datetime: 2023-07-28 09:17:12

IWAKI, Japan — Beach season has started across Japan, which means seafood for holidaymakers and good times for business owners. But in Fukushima, that may end soon.

Within weeks, the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant may start releasing nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, media estimated, a highly contested plan still facing fierce protests inside and outside Japan.

Residents worry that the discharge could deal another setback to Fukushima's image and hurt their businesses and livelihoods.

"Without a healthy ocean, I cannot make a living," said Yukinaga Suzuki, a 70-year-old innkeeper at Usuiso beach in Iwaki, about 50 kilometers south of the plant.

Residents say they feel shikataganai, or helpless.

Suzuki is among those who are not fully convinced by the government's propaganda.

"If you ask me what I think about the release, I'm against it," he said. "We don't know if it's safe yet. We just can't tell until much later."

The government and the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, have announced plans to release the nuclear-contaminated water during the summer. But they have not said when the release will begin.

Repeated warnings

Asian neighbors and Pacific Island countries have repeatedly warned that Japan's unilateral release will only lead to stronger questioning and opposition from the international community.

"If the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water is truly safe, Japan wouldn't have to dump it into the sea — and certainly shouldn't, if it's not," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a recent news conference.

The Usuiso area used to have more than a dozen family-run inns before the disaster. Now, Suzuki's half-century-old Suzukame, which he inherited from his parents 30 years ago, is the only one still in business.

"I serve fresh local fish to my guests, and the beach house is for visitors to rest and chill out. The ocean is the source of my livelihood," he said.

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima plant's cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt and contaminating their cooling water, which has since leaked continuously.

Katsumasa Okawa runs a seafood store and a restaurant in Iwaki. His wife evacuated to her parents' home in Yokohama, near Tokyo, with their four children. In July 2011, Okawa resumed sale of fresh fish, but none from Fukushima.

Japanese fishing organizations strongly opposed Fukushima's water release, worrying about further damage to the reputation of their seafood as they struggle to recover.

Similar groups in Asia have also raised concerns. Hong Kong has vowed to ban the import of aquatic products from Fukushima and other Japanese prefectures if Tokyo discharges nuclear-contaminated water into the sea.

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