Fukushima Water Release Schedule Considered Fishing Season, Diplomatic Calendar

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, far right, on Tuesday attends a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers on the release of treated water into the ocean. At far left is Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. President Tomoaki Kobayakawa.

The government is making final arrangements to start the release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the sea on Thursday.

The planned release from the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. facility comes two days after the government announced the discharge date, which was decided after it took into consideration the concerns of local fishermen and the domestic situation in South Korea.

The government has put particular focus on its relationship with the fishing industry.

At Tuesday’s meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke of the government’s continued efforts to counter false rumors, quoting a remark by Masanobu Sakamoto, head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (Zengyoren), with whom he had met the previous day.

“We’ve received some feedback saying that ‘understanding is advancing’ for the government’s stance to help fishermen keep their jobs and its measures [for the upcoming treated water release], including [those to ensure] safety,” Kishida said.

Within the government, the decision to release the treated water by the end of August was almost fixed on July 4, when the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report that concluded Japan’s plan to discharge treated water from the nuclear power plant is “consistent with international safety standards.”

As the season for offshore dragnet fishing will resume off Fukushima Prefecture from Sept. 1, the government believes that it will be able to help counter false rumors to a certain extent if it can show safety by releasing monitoring data on the discharged water before the fishing season resumes.

“To gain the understanding of the fishing industry, it was an absolute prerequisite to discharge the treated water before the fishing season resumes,” a senior government official said as he recalled coordination over setting the release date.

Late August looked more feasible

The government also had to give due consideration to South Korea because President Yoon Suk Yeol has shown understanding for the water’s release into the ocean, despite facing scientifically ungrounded criticism particularly from the country’s largest leftist opposition party.

A summit among Kishida, Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden was held on Friday, but it was initially expected to take place at the end of August. There had been a plan within the government to set the release date immediately after the Bon holidays, which ended around Aug. 16.

However, moving up the summit to Friday scrapped this plan, because releasing treated water just before or after the meeting “might prompt domestic criticism against Yoon,” a government source said. Instead, late August was considered the most feasible timing, and the government also decided not to discuss the treated water issue when Kishida held a meeting with Yoon on the sidelines of the trilateral summit.

The prime minister is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Okinawa Prefecture starting Friday, while the official campaigning period will kick off on the same day for the prefectural assembly election in Iwate, another area hit hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Another factor appeared to be a three-day visit to China starting from Monday by Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Some members in the ruling camp believe that this visit served as a “final, decisive” factor to narrow down the release date to Thursday.

There are some expectations that Yamaguchi’s visit to China could serve as a turning point for improving the stagnant bilateral relations. “Thursday was the only available option so that the release date could be set as far as possible from Yamaguchi’s visit to China while also avoiding provoking the country as much as possible,” a Komeito source said.

Government’s responsibility

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement of the discharge date, Kishida visited the nuclear power plant on Sunday, and firsthand sought understanding from Sakamoto and other fisheries officials on Monday. While there was an initial plan to have a period of about 10 days between the announcement of the release date and the actual discharge, Kishida exercised his leadership to coordinate with stakeholders on his own, thus considerably shortening the period.

As the government is urged to ensure safety in releasing treated water into the ocean, on Tuesday it held a videoconference briefing about Japan’s efforts for diplomatic missions in Tokyo, which was attended by 48 officials from 32 countries and regions, including China. The government will also produce video footage on its monitoring scheme for the discharged water in English, Chinese and other languages.

“The release will last for decades,” a senior government official said. “The government will have to face questions over its responsibility even more than now.”