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HomeWORLD NEWSSome of Japan's neighbors are alarmed by the Fukushima water leak. Ought...

Some of Japan’s neighbors are alarmed by the Fukushima water leak. Ought they to be?

The plan’s official approval in South Korea hasn’t done much to calm the country’s populace as officials deal with panic buying, protests, and consumer boycotts. Even some stores that had a limit on purchases of sea salt ran out.

After receiving approval from the U.N. nuclear watchdog last week for its plan to release treated radioactive water from the tsunami-devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo has banned seafood exports from several Japanese prefectures, and Hong Kong has followed suit.

To avoid unintentional leaks and to make place for the plant’s decommissioning, the water, which is now being stored in hundreds of tanks on land, according to the Japanese government and the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, must be removed.

Although they have provided assurances that the plant complies with international safety standards and have the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a number of Asian nations are still unconvinced and have imposed export restrictions on seafood caught off the coast of various parts of Japan as well as additional food safety inspections on products from the Fukushima region.

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, is pictured on July 5 feeding fish bred in contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility in Fukushima, Japan. AP via Kyodo

China, which has vigorously opposed the idea, is leading the criticism. On Friday, its customs agency committed to take “all necessary measures” to allay the concerns of its clients. This included a de facto restriction on imports from Fukushima and the other ten Japanese prefectures.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, stated at a news conference last week that Japan has decided to pass the risk of nuclear pollution onto the entire human race after twelve years.

Professor of marine physics and biology at the Ocean University of China, Li Fengmin, expressed concern to NBC News that the Japanese government may have exerted pressure on the IAEA to release its recommendations.

He continued, “My personal concern is there might be political, economic, or diplomatic gaming hiding behind IAEA’s conclusion,” noting that Japan was disposing of the wastewater because it was “a more cost-effective choice.”

On March 11, 2011, the area was struck by an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude, the biggest in Japan’s recorded history, in one of the deadliest disasters in human history.

The nuclear plant’s walls were then pounded by a devastating wall of water, which also flooded some of the facility’s interior and destroyed backup generators and power supplies. Radioactive particles were released into the air as three nuclear reactors broke down.

A wall of water struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the wake of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that shook the area in March 2011.AP file via Hidenori Nagai and The Yomiuri Shimbun

Authorities moved swiftly, cleaning up the area around the structures and removing around 4 inches of soil and plants. However, the extensive cleanup, compensation, and decommissioning incurred enormous expenses for TEPCO, and a Japanese court last year determined the tragedy might have been avoided if the corporation had taken reasonable precautions.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee announced Tuesday that the city will prohibit “a large number of prefectural sea products” from Japan due to the Fukushima wastewater leak, following Beijing’s move to outlaw Japanese seafood.

Additionally, to allay concerns, a fish market in South Korea tested its seafood for radiation last week. This occurred despite a government evaluation that found the wastewater spill would have “insignificant” effects on South Korea’s water.

Some Japanese fishing organizations have also questioned the plan because they are concerned about the reputation of their catches.

But experts have insisted that it is secure.

Professor of material physics at Imperial College London and member of Britain’s emergency response team to Fukushima Robin Grimes stated that the radiation levels that truly present a risk to human health are “thousands of times more” than those that will be emitted.

The radiation exposure is the same as or even lower than getting a tooth X-rayed, said Nigel Marks, an associate professor at Curtin University in Australia.

According to the IAEA study, Japan is using a specialized system known as the advanced liquid processing system, which is a “pumping and filtration system” that employs a series of chemical reactions to remove the various radioactive materials from the water.

The increase in radioactivity will be “very, very tiny,” according to Mark Foreman, an associate professor of energy and materials at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. He continued by saying that the Pacific will greatly dilute chemicals like tritium, which cannot be eliminated by the sophisticated liquid processing equipment.

The advanced liquid processing method has yet to demonstrate its efficacy, according to Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also expressed his disappointment that other options like using water to make concrete were “not fully considered.”

Japan aspires to begin releasing the water this summer and do so for many years to come.

Grimes said that it was “just mad” to have to maintain it for two or three hundred years after tritium became undetectable.

“The risk would be even lower than other plants around the world because the Japanese have removed those radioactive species to an even greater extent,” he continued.

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