China suspends seafood from Japan over its release of radioactive wastewater

Japan began its 30-year discharge of treated radioactive wastewater into the ocean on Thursday. Photo courtesy IAEA

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- China announced on Thursday it was suspending all imported seafood and other sea-bound products from Japan after Tokyo said it was releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Japan began its planned controversial release of more than 1 million metric tons of treated radioactive wastewater from the destroyed power plant into the Pacific Ocean as part of its plan to decommission the site.

Japan is one of China's largest exporters of fish, totaling $493.4 million in 2022, along with millions worth of crustaceans and mollusks, like crabs and scallops.

In a translated statement, China's General Administration of Customs said the government made the decision to "comprehensively prevent the risk of radioactive contamination of food safety, protect the health of Chinese consumers, and ensure the safety of imported food."

The agency said the decision was made in compliance with China's food safety law, administrative protocols regarding the safety of food imports and exports, along with the World Trade Organization's agreement concerning the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

Tokyo's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the discharge had begun in a statement published to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

"We, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, will fulfill our responsibilities from this day, when the first drop of water has been released, to the day when the last drop of water has been safely discharged," it said.

Since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings has been storing more than 1.3 million metric tons of radioactive water in more than 1,000 large tanks on the site.

The water, which is a combination of contaminated groundwater and water that was used for cooling reactors, accumulates daily, and for years, Japan has warned that a solution was needed as they were running out of capacity and the tanks present security and safety risks, while also representing a hurdle in decommissioning the location.

Japan approved plans in 2021 to gradually release the wastewater into the ocean after being diluted with seawater and treated through a processing system known as ALPS that removes all nuclides except for tritium, a naturally occurring hydrogen atom that is a relatively weak source of beta radiation.

The discharge is to occur over some three decades.

Last month following the completion of a two-year study of the plan, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Japan its approval, with IAEA head Rafael Grossi stating the gradual discharge "would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment."

Japan earlier this week announced it would commence with the plan Thursday, weather permitting.

TEPCO officials said Thursday morning in a press conference that the discharge was to begin at 1 p.m.

Plans state the initial discharge of some 7,800 metric tons will occur over a 17-day period, with a total four discharges to take place this fiscal year, amounting to 5 trillion becquerels of tritium added to the ocean.

The officials said that analysis shows the tritium concentration of the water released Thursday was between 43 and 63 Bq per liter, which is below TEPCO's limit of 1,500 Bq/l.

While South Korea signed off on the plan after the IAEA gave its approval, China has voiced strong disapproval.

On Thursday, Beijing warned that while a major catastrophe occurred in March 2011, a "man-made secondary disaster" could occur over Japan's decision to service its "selfish interests," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

"To forcibly start the ocean discharge is an extremely selfish and irresponsible act in disregard of the global public interest. By dumping the water into the ocean, Japan is spreading the risks to the rest of the world and passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity," it said.

"By doing so, Japan has turned itself into a saboteur of the ecological system and polluter of the global marine environment. It is infringing upon people's rights to health, development and a healthy environment."

In South Korea, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo called on Japan to be transparent during the 30-year discharge.

"If it is released according to the measures announced earlier by the Japanese government, Korea sees no need to worry much," he said in a statement.