South Korean Consumers and Fishing Industry Worry Over Fukushima Wastewater Release Amid Trial Runs in Japan

The impending discharge and its trial runs have put consumers, retailers, and authorities in South Korea on high alert over the potential impacts on the supply and safety of seafood products.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

As Japan’s TEPCO commences trial operations for the release of contaminated wastewater from the demolished Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, anxiety deepens among South Korean consumers and the local fishing industry.

Reports from international media outlets such as Fukushima TV and KFB on June 12 stated that TEPCO plans to conduct test runs for around two weeks to check for potential system defects. The trial operation involves blending seawater with uncontaminated water and discharging it through a submarine tunnel, approximately 1 km long. It aims to ensure the accuracy of the system’s blockage devices in case of emergencies. No contaminated water containing radioactive materials will be discharged during this trial.

An official from TEPCO explained the trial run as a necessary step to confirm the system’s operations and secure safety. TEPCO, which has already filled the 1-km submarine tunnel from the power plant to the sea with seawater, plans to complete preparations for the marine discharge of contaminated water by the end of this month. Provided there are no significant issues in the final report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigative team, the discharge is scheduled to commence this summer.

However, opposition from local fishermen in Japan remains strong. Despite the Japanese government’s efforts to persuade them, the fishermen have consistently expressed their objections. Japanese Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi held a meeting with about 20 fishermen’s associations from Miyagi, Fukushima, and Ibaraki prefectures on June 10. Despite Nishimura’s pleas for understanding over the planned discharge, the fishermen reiterated their firm opposition to marine discharge.

The head of the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Cooperative Association criticized the visit, stating that they “hoped their voices would have been heard sooner.” The president of the Ibaraki Fisheries Cooperative Association also expressed heightened concerns about the future of their fishing industry. In response, Minister Nishimura pledged to honor his commitments and continued to seek understanding.

The impending discharge and its trial runs have put consumers, retailers, and authorities in South Korea on high alert over the potential impacts on the supply and safety of seafood products. The situation continues to evolve, with everyone closely monitoring the developments in Fukushima.

Beyond the consumers, the South Korean fishing industry is bracing for severe repercussions. The industry, which nearly collapsed following the initial Fukushima nuclear disaster, fears that over half of its businesses could crumble in the aftermath of the wastewater release.

Already, businesses importing Japanese seafood are feeling the effects. One operator of a seafood import company in Gamcheon Port revealed that shipments of Japanese seafood have dwindled significantly. Industry veterans lament the challenging times ahead, fearing a further decline in consumption.

Efforts to secure supplies before the wastewater release are also becoming evident, with importers and retailers placing an emphasis on “pre-discharge” seafood. However, there is a shared anticipation that the entire fishing industry will gradually perish following the discharge.

Even businesses importing seafood from areas other than Japan share the same concerns. Despite safety assurances and radiation test results, they worry that the public will avoid seafood altogether, much like after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’ Seafood Information Portal, imports of Japanese seafood plummeted from 84,018 tons in 2010 to 32,844 tons in 2014.

On the production side, businesses are preparing for impending damage by selling their fishing vessels and reducing their workforce. Particularly, long-haul fishing companies operating several boats for different species have been known to dispose of some vessels.

Retail outlets are also anxious. A trader at Jagalchi Market reported a decrease in local customers following the news of the wastewater release, with foreign visitors now outnumbering locals. A restaurant owner in Busan’s Jung District also shared tales of customers eating up seafood before the release, while others worried about feeding seafood to their children.

The industry has collectively voiced concerns that the government is causing confusion among the public and failing to present effective countermeasures regarding Japan’s wastewater release. They assert that a thorough inspection of Japan’s wastewater discharge system is needed for both the industry and the public to regain confidence. As summer approaches, the situation continues to unfold, leaving consumers, retailers, and authorities on high alert over the potential impacts of Fukushima’s wastewater release.

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