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No Radiation Detected in Fish or in Seawater After Treated Water Release Off Fukushima Daiichi 

Scientists found no trace of radiation either in the water or in sea creatures. But motivated by nationalist politics, China has banned all Japanese seafood.



Fishermen in Soma, Fukushima, take care of their fishing gear on August 22. They are the biggest victims of China's misinformation campaign and economic coercion. (©Kyodo)

The gurnard (scientific name: Chelidonichthys cuculus) is not a famous fish, although it does have a charming nickname. Gurnards are known as "sea robins" due to their bright red color. But are they safe to eat, or are they contaminated with radiation, as fearmongers in China claim?

One specimen was pulled out of the sea on Japan's eastern coast on Friday, August 25 to see if it showed any signs of being affected by the release of processed water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

After careful tests, the Fisheries Agency announced that there was nothing to suggest the fish had been contaminated with any radioactive substance.

On August 27, Environment Minister Akihiro Nishimura explained on the agency's website that "tritium concentrations correspond to below the lower limit of detection (below 7~8 Bq/L) at all 11 sampling points." The agency added that this "would have no adverse impact on human health and the environment."

Tokyo Electric Power Co, or TEPCO, oversees the Fukushima clean-up operation. It says that tritium is the only radioactive material likely to be found in the water.

At the weekend, three fish of a different species -  the olive flounder (scientific name: paralichthys olivaceus) - were removed from the sea for tests.

The agency concluded they were all perfectly safe to eat.

Fukushima Daiichi treated water release
This gurnard, sometimes called a sea robin, is one of the species tested off Fukushima following the release of ALPS treated water. (Gurnard by Benjamin Guichard Agence des aires marines.)

Clean Sea

Separately, Japan's Environment Ministry has collected seawater samples from near Fukushima. Specifically, from near where the processed water was discharged after being treated through the ALPS system. (ALPS stands for "Advanced Liquid Processing System.)

On Monday, August 28, the ministry said that the water was clean and safe. Indeed, radiation levels were "below the lower limit of detection for all samples."

The ministry advised that the situation "would have no adverse impact on human health or the environment."


Environment Minister Akihiro Nishimura has promised that monitoring will continue "with a high level of objectivity, transparency, and reliability." He is determined to prevent an adverse impact on Japan's reputation. 

Fishermen's Concern

Reassuring the local fishing community is a key priority for the government.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently met with Masanobu Sakamoto, head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives. Nonetheless, he was informed that the organization remains opposed to the release of the treated water.

Mr Sakamoto said his members have gained some confidence about the safety of the move, but still fear damage to their sector.

In response, Mr Kishida promised to help protect the fishing industry's reputation until the release of the water ends. Mr Sakamoto welcomed the government's pledge of support.

Protesters oppose the release of treated water from the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean in front of the building that houses the Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong on August 24. (©Kyodo)

Seafood Ban

Even before the release of the treated water, China and opposition groups in South Korea decided to ban seafood from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures. 

China is the biggest importer of Japanese seafood. But after it was confirmed the release would be going ahead, Beijing imposed a total ban on Japanese seafood imports.

The news came as a shock to fish dealers at a market in Beijing.

One person who sells tuna from Nagasaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan told Reuters that he would now need to try to buy supplies from Australia, New Zealand, or Spain.

However, the dealer said the taste and texture of tuna from those countries are totally different from the Japanese imports. He added that it is "impossible to replace them." 

As the Economist magazine has pointed out, China is actually a major marine polluter. China's Yangjiang nuclear plant releases more tritium into the sea than is proposed at Fukushima.

IAEA Director-General Grossi (right) visits the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and also feeds flounder flounder that are being bred on a trial basis in a tank filled with treated water on the afternoon of July 5, 2023. (© Kyodo)

A Pact Against Japan

The Chinese Communist Party likes to give the impression that other countries - including Russia - have joined a pact to support its anti-Japanese position.

This is misleading. 

Russia has a "no limits" partnership with China, and therefore might well choose to take sides against Japan. However, it says it intends to study the scientific evidence before imposing a fish ban.

The Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision of Russia also commented. It said that "if an excess of radioactive material is detected, restrictive measures will be taken in relation to the supply of such goods from Japan."  

Thailand is taking a similar approach. 

According to Thai media, the Food and Drug Administration of Thailand said that if the seafood imported from Japan exceeds the standard of radiation and other relevant indices, the country is ready to suspend imports. 

At present, the results of the tests conducted by the Fisheries Ministry and the Environment Minister of Japan provide no justification for such a move.  

Protesters in Seoul gathered near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul o oppose the release of treated water from TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. July 7. (©Kyodo).

The Korean Position

In South Korea, the response to the Fukushima situation also reflects the extremely polarized nature of that country's politics.

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-Yeol has not denounced the release of the processed water. He has received personal reassurances from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency that it poses negligible risks to health.

South Korean scientists joined the IAEA's inspection team. Furthermore, South Korean officials have been invited to check the seawater independently of the Japanese government.

Nevertheless, the opposition leader Lee Jae Myung has been loudly berating Japan.

At a rally of 50,000 people in Seoul on Saturday, August 26, Lee shouted: "Japan has crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed. Discharging nuclear-contaminated water is a declaration of war against nations bordering the Pacific Ocean."


Mr Lee is well known in South Korea for his close relationship with China. And he has been fiercely critical of the Yoon administration's push to mend ties with Japan.

As might be imagined, North Korea has also decried the release of water from Fukushima. 

US President Joe Biden speaks at the press conference at Camp David. (©Kyodo)

Supportive Voices

By contrast, the United States Department of State has endorsed Japan's approach. Moreover, it says that it is "satisfied with Japan's safe, transparent, and science-based process."

In Britain, Jim Smith, professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth spoke to the Financial Times. "I don't know any scientists in the UK - and indeed the world - in the field of radiological protection who are against it. As a scientist, I would have started the release much earlier and done it much more quickly."

The paper also quoted Geraldine Thomas, a radiation health expert at Imperial College, London. She has visited Fukushima five times since the accident. "I kept asking Tepco when they would release the water, " she said. "What worried me was what would happen if there was another quake and the tanks split. How would they handle the outcry then?" 


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays on JAPAN Forward.

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