TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s industry minister said on Monday the government had won “a degree of understanding” from the fishing industry for the discharge of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Monday met Masanobu Sakamoto, the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, to offer safety assurances about the water.
Following the talks Nishimura said he believed the understanding allowed for a decision by the government on Tuesday on the release. He did not say when it would begin pumping the wastewater into the ocean.
Japan’s plan to release treated water from the damaged nuclear reactor has attracted criticism at home and abroad, including from the fishing industry which fears reputational damage.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month greenlighted the plan, saying that the impact from the water release on people and the environment would be “negligible”.
Despite such assurances, the prospect of more than a million tons of water being pumped into the Pacific from the nuclear plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company has sparked alarm.
Ahead of the talks, Sakamoto said that the group’s opposition to the plan had “not changed one bit,” adding that they understood the release could be scientifically safe but still feared reputational damage to their livelihoods.
The government is expected to decide soon, perhaps within days, when to start releasing the water, equivalent to the contents of 500 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The water has mostly been used to cool nuclear reactors damaged in 2011 when tsunami waves crashed into the plant on the coast north of Tokyo after an earthquake.
It has been treated to remove most radioactive elements except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that must be diluted because it is difficult to filter.
Kishida, who visited the plant on Sunday, said last week his government was in the final stage of deciding when to begin the release. Cabinet ministers will discuss the issue on Tuesday.
The predicted decades-long release raised anxiety among the fishing industry, which was “gravely concerned,” Sakamoto said.
Kishida acknowledged the concerns but said the water release had become a pressing matter, and asked the fishermen to understand that the disposal of the water was necessary.
“I promise that we will take on the entire responsibility of ensuring the fishing industry can continue to make their living, even if that will take decades,” he said.
China, in particular, has criticised the plan and banned some seafood imports. Citizens’ groups in Japan and South Korea are also opposed to the release.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Satoshi Sugiyama, Elaine Lies; Writing by Elaine Lies and Sakura Murakami; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Clarence Fernandez and Sharon Singleton)
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