FUKUSHIMA - Local fishermen expressed anger and frustration at the Japanese government's decision Tuesday to release treated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea, fearing their efforts to restore fishing following the 2011 disaster will go down the drain.
The controversial move came at "the worst time" for fishermen who are stepping up preparations for the restart of full-fledged coastal fishing off Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, after years of small-scale, trial fishing -- complete with safety checks for radioactive materials to win back consumer trust -- ended in March.
"Why now? I'm strongly opposed to the release (of treated water)," said Yoshimi Terashima, a fisherman from the Fukushima town of Shinchi. "I want to go fishing every day like I used to," said the 73-year-old, who can do so only twice a week at present.
At the Nakoso fishing port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, Katsuo Watanabe, 82, learned about the government decision as he was fixing his fishing equipment.
"The shortage of successors became more serious after the nuclear accident. If (the treated water) is released into the sea, more young people will see no future for the industry and fishing in Fukushima will decline," Watanabe said.
The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided to release into the sea treated radioactive water that has been accumulating at the Fukushima plant, with the controversial operation expected to start in two years' time.
Most radioactive materials such as strontium and cesium are removed from water pumped into the damaged reactors to cool the melted fuel but tritium, which is said to pose little risk to humans in low concentration, remains.
Hiroshi Kishi, who heads the national federation of fisheries cooperatives, called the formal government decision "extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable" in the group's "strong protest." He had expressed firm opposition to the government's move when he met Suga last week.
Kishi took issue with the government's reversal of its earlier stance to gain local approval first.
"It severely hurts the feelings of fishermen not only in Fukushima but across the nation," Kishi said in a statement.
The fishing industry in Fukushima has been grappling with reputational damage and struggling to restore consumer confidence in its marine products. Fishermen in neighboring prefectures such as Ibaraki have also taken a hit.
"It's a decision that will take back the lives of fishermen to 10 years ago," said a 53-year-old fisherman in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki.
Nobuyuki Aizawa, 69, who runs a seafood processing firm in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, showed some understanding of the government decision, saying, "To move the decommissioning of the plant forward, we cannot keep the treated water stored forever."
However, he called for sufficient explanations about the safety of releasing the water into the sea.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of the Fukushima plant, plans to scrap the nuclear complex by 2041 to 2051.
A series of delays have raised questions about the feasibility of the decommissioning plan and how to dispose of some 1.25 million tons of treated water in tanks on the premises has been a major challenge.
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