A fishing industry group in northern Japan protested Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s decision to dump radioactive water into the sea in Fukushima, saying it may damage their fishery forever.
Tepco, as the utility is known, began releasing water yesterday off the coast near its Dai-Ichi plant. It plans to dump 11,500 tons (3 million gallons) containing about 100 times the regulatory limit of irradiated iodine in an area about 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Tokyo. The government approved the measure so that Tepco can drain turbine buildings of water so radioactive it burned workers two weeks ago.
Fish sales in Japan have slumped since the magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that knocked out power at the nuclear plant, leaving its cooling systems unable to prevent a partial meltdown. Radioactive material has leaked into the air and sea ever since, forcing the government to ban milk and fish shipments from Fukushima.
“We lost lots of loved ones, ships, ports, facilities and on top of that, we are suffering from marine damage caused by the incident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant,” Tetsu Nozaki, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, said in a letter to Tepco shown to the media today. “We strongly protest and urge you to stop dumping into the sea.”
Tepco will discharge 10,000 tons of water from its waste treatment facility and another 1,500 tons accumulated in pits outside reactors No. 5 and 6, Masateru Araki, a company spokesman, said yesterday. Filtering radiation from the water would take too long and its release will help protect equipment in the buildings housing the reactors, another spokesman said yesterday.
“There was no choice but to take this step to prevent (other) highly radioactive water from spreading into the sea,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters today. “The fact that radioactive water is being deliberately dumped into the sea is very regrettable and one we are very sorry about.”
Radioactive iodine and cesium were found in fish caught off the coast of Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, the Yomiuri newspaper reported today, citing the Hiragata Fishermen’s Union in Ibaraki city, Ibaraki prefecture, just south of the damaged power plant.
A study detected 4,080 becquerels of iodine-131 and 447 becquerels of cesium per kilogram of sand eels caught on April 1. The levels aren’t harmful for limited consumption, the newspaper reported, citing Shinichi Suga, a former official at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute.
Releasing the water will help Tepco retain more harmful materials at the station, said Brendan Kennedy, a member of the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering Inc. and a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney.
“I don’t think this dumping of the low-level waste is any great environmental problem,” Kennedy said on Bloomberg Television. “What they’ve got to not dump is more heavily radiated waste material,” he said.
Radioactive iodine in seawater near the plant was 630 times the regulatory limit on April 3, Tepco said in a statement. The sample was taken 330 meters south of where the water was discharged. The company released the information being ordered by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to reevaluate radiation data after previously publishing errors.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Concerns about radioactive fish have caused sales to drop, even after the government ordered a stop to fishing off the coast of Fukushima. At the Tsukiji fish market in central Tokyo, sales of fresh fish fell to an average 583 metric tons per day in the week ended March 17, 28 percent lower from a year earlier. Sales dropped by 44 percent in the week to March 24. Total trading volumes fell by 25 percent and 23 percent, according to official data.
“Restaurants are losing customers and the demand for fish is falling,” Kosaka Tsutomu, head of marine and agricultural products section at Tsukiji, said in an interview at the market last week. “Consumers are reluctant to buy fish after the earthquake due to harmful rumors about contamination, and damage to the distribution system has also disrupted supplies.”
Sushi restaurants and hotels, including Shangri-La Asia’s luxury chain, dropped Japanese seafood from their menus because of radiation fears. Global fishing companies such as Hong Kong’s Pacific Andes International Holdings Ltd. could benefit from increased demand to replace Japanese produce. Japan exported 565,295 metric tons of fish and other marine products worth 195 billion yen ($2.3 billion) last year.
Japanese Food Imports
Nations from Australia to the U.S. have limited Japanese food imports. Singapore banned seafood imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma while allowing shipments from other Japanese prefectures.
“Our exports will decrease as countries stop importing from Japan,” Hiroyuki Motoki, a manager at Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. (1334), Japan’s largest seafood company, said in an interview. Still, Japan’s fishing industry isn’t dependent on exports and a larger problem is the damage to infrastructure that is hindering shipments of salmon, saury and abalone from quake-hit areas in the northeast, he said.
The number of dead and missing following the earthquake and tsunami reached 27,688 as of 10 a.m. local time today, according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo.
In Kesennuma, about 150 kilometers north of the nuclear plant, local fishermen who lost houses, boats, wharfs and processing facilities in the tsunami are seeing sales hit further by radiation fears. Miyagi prefecture, where the city is located, is Japan’s second-largest breeder of oysters after Hiroshima in the southwest part of the country.
“Radiation is not a concern at all,” said Katsutoshi Mori, president of the World Oyster Society as well as of the Japan Oyster Research Institute, whose laboratory in Kesennuma was destroyed. “I’m more worried about groundless fears of radiation that would deter buyers.”