Fukushima residents slam Japanese gov't for breaking promise
Published: Aug 28, 2023 03:32 PM
A fisherman cleans at Tsurishihama Fishing Port after fishing in Shinchi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Aug. 23, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu)

A fisherman cleans at Tsurishihama Fishing Port after fishing in Shinchi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Aug. 23, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu)

Haruo Ono, a fisherman in the town of Shinchi in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture, has been fishing in the sea for 56 years since he was 15 years old.

Shinchi is located in the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture, facing the Pacific Ocean. The waters here are where the warm Kuroshio Current meets the cold Oyashio Current, thus a natural high-quality fishing ground. Its seafood was once the "darling" of fish wholesale markets in big cities such as Tokyo.

But after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, which is also known in the country as the Great East Japan Earthquake, wholesalers at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market were reluctant to purchase fish products from Fukushima. It was not until the past few years that the prices of Fukushima seafood returned to pre-earthquake levels.

Despite the raging opposition of the international community, Japan started releasing nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, sparking concerns among many fishermen about their livelihoods.

The 71-year-old fisherman told Xinhua in a recent interview that "for us, the ocean discharge is a matter of survival."

The Japanese prime minister and the minister of economy, trade and industry have visited Fukushima many times, but they have not met directly with the fishermen, nor have they asked for their opinions, Ono said.

Even more unacceptable to fishermen is the government's failure to keep its word. Ono said that fishermen have been voicing opposition, but the government still made a hasty decision, which was unacceptable.

In 2015, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, promised local fishermen that they would not release the radioactive wastewater into the sea "without the understanding of relevant parties."

Yoshio Satomi, who lives in Fukushima's Iwaki City, also said it was unacceptable.

Iwaki City is over 50 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Satomi, who runs a hot spring hotel with a history of more than 300 years in the city, told Xinhua that after the nuclear disaster in 2011, there were fewer visitors from outside Fukushima and almost none from abroad.

In recent years, the number of tourists has finally started to pick up, but now news of the nuclear-contaminated water discharge has spread all over the world, and Fukushima has been implicated again, Satomi said.

Satomi said, "The government promised the fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture not to discharge nuclear-contaminated water arbitrarily, and now it has decided to discharge it, so the government lied."

The Japanese government claimed that without emptying and removing the tanks storing radioactive wastewater in the nuclear power plant, there will not be enough space for the decommissioning of the reactor and Fukushima will not be able to be revitalized. From Satomi's point of view, this is simply a lie.

In Futaba Town and Okuma Town, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located, the government has poured money into building many beautiful houses, but only 10 percent are now occupied, and most of those who left Fukushima 12 years ago have long since settled somewhere else.

Satomi said, "So no matter how much money is spent or how the government talks about revitalization, the reality is that people don't come back."

Pediatrician Yoichi Yatsuda is one of the residents who have returned to Futaba since the evacuation order was lifted in August last year. Futaba had a population of more than 7,000 before the accident, but so far only about 80 have returned, Yatsuda said.

Yatsuda and his wife found it hard to leave their hometown behind, so they returned shortly after the evacuation order was lifted, although their children chose to stay in Sendai, a city in Miyagi prefecture.

Ono, a lifelong fisherman, said he has no other career choice and will continue to be a fisherman even if the price of fish is low. "This is both a fisherman's pride and a wish for consumers to taste delicious sea fish... Do politicians understand this? The sea is not a dustbin."

Ono said that he has joined the plaintiffs to take the Japanese government and TEPCO to court to stop the release plan and will file the lawsuit in the Fukushima District Court in early September.

Ono's three sons are all fishermen. "I stand against it now so that my sons will not be forced to struggle to live in the future."