China has announced a blanket ban on all seafood imports from Japan, following Tokyo’s decision to start releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. The move has sparked protests and criticism from neighboring countries and fishing communities, who fear the environmental and health impacts of the discharge.
Japan began pumping out the first batch of water on Thursday, two days after the plan was approved by its government. The water contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to remove from water. Japan says the water has been treated to remove other radioactive substances and diluted to meet international safety standards. It expects to release more than 1 million tons of water over the next 30 to 40 years.
China’s foreign ministry condemned Japan’s action as a “selfish and irresponsible act that ignores international public interests”. It said the ocean is the common property of all humanity and Japan should not endanger it with its nuclear wastewater. China’s customs authorities said they would ban all imports of aquatic products from Japan, effective immediately.
South Korea also expressed its strong opposition to Japan’s decision, calling it “unacceptable” and “unilateral”. It said it would step up its radiation monitoring of Japanese seafood and take legal action at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. South Korean police arrested at least 14 people who entered a building housing the Japanese embassy in Seoul during a protest on Thursday.
The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered a meltdown in March 2011, after a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit the region. The disaster caused massive amounts of radioactive water to accumulate at the site, which has been stored in tanks that are running out of space. Japan says releasing the water is necessary to free up space and decommission the plant.
However, many people are skeptical about the safety and necessity of the water release. Some local fishers say they have spent years rebuilding their industry after the nuclear accident, and fear that consumers will shun their products due to radiation concerns. Some environmental groups say Japan should find alternative ways to store or dispose of the water, such as evaporating it or solidifying it. Some experts say more research is needed on the long-term effects of tritium on marine life and human health.