Fukushima Fishers, Municipalities Urge Action to Prevent Misinformation After Sea Release

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fisherman Kaiei Suzuki works on a boat in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.

FUKUSHIMA — The fishing sector and municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are calling for action from the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to mitigate the risk of reputational damage after the planned ocean discharge of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority began the final stage of safety screenings on Wednesday, following the completion of a test run and all related work.

Fishers in the prefecture stopped inshore fishing after the 2011 nuclear accident. Since June 2012, only species deemed safe after radioactive screening have been hauled. Since April 2021, the operations have been gradually transitioning back to full scale.

Kaiei Suzuki, a 21-year-old fisherman from Soma in the prefecture, said he gave up a company job and joined the fishing industry in February after his fisherman father suffered a stroke.

In April, Suzuki bought equipment for flounder fishing and took charge of a boat after succeeding his 61-year-old father. “It’ll be a problem if I can’t sell my fish due to harmful rumors,” he said.

After the nuclear accident, annual landings in the prefecture fell to as low as 122 tons. The figure has now recovered to 5,525 tons, about 20% of the pre-disaster figure of 25,879 tons.

Offshore trawlers of the Soma Futaba fishing cooperative will resume operations off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in September. The cooperative aims to land 70% of its pre-disaster haul within five years. The local fishers are therefore sensitive that reputational damage could hamper the recovery of the industry.

The tourism sector is also concerned. All of the 18 beaches along the Fukushima coast were damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake. Eight of them will reopen this season, including four scheduled to open on July 15 in Iwaki.

“After the coronavirus pandemic, I had high hopes about this summer,” a 70-year-old who runs a beach house said. “People will avoid swimming in the sea if the discharge happens.”

In May, the Iwaki municipal government submitted a written request to the central government and TEPCO, demanding the publicization of accurate information and the implementation of thorough measures to mitigate the risk of reputational damage.

“The government’s awareness-raising commercials and explanatory sessions are commendable to a certain extent, but I don’t think progress has been made in terms of public understanding,” Iwaki Mayor Hiroyuki Uchida said. “It’s painful seeing the situation in Okuma and Futaba, where the amount of treated water continues to increase.”

Fukushima University Prof. Ryota Koyama, said: “It’s necessary to have many people understand the scientific evidence that safety standards are being met. It’s important to publicize screening results, demonstrate safety and increase the number of retailers willing to sell the prefecture’s products at reasonable prices.”