China is ‘unlikely’ to lift import ban on Japanese seafood as dumping continues
Published: Feb 25, 2024 09:50 PM
Water tanks near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town of Fukushima prefecture on May 26, 2023 Photo: VCG

Water tanks near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town of Fukushima prefecture on May 26, 2023 Photo: VCG

Half a year after Japan opened Pandora's box by dumping nuclear-contaminated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean, Japanese media are discussing the possibility of bilateral talks for getting China to revoke its import ban on Japanese marine products, in an apparent attempt to test the waters.

In response, Chinese experts told the Global Times on Sunday that, in the short term, it is unlikely that China will revoke the ban as there are currently no conditions for a withdrawal. 

Meanwhile, a Kyodo News survey on Friday showed that most Japanese fishery groups have been affected by the discharge, with many feeling the impact through China's import ban on Japanese seafood.

The survey found that 29 out of 36 respondents among the members of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations said they "had felt" or "had somewhat felt" negative effects, including financial damage due to the contaminated water dumping, overwhelmingly due to the subsequent import ban by China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular press conference that the precautionary measures taken by China and some other countries in response to Japan's move are aimed at protecting food safety and people's health. 

"These measures are entirely legitimate, reasonable and necessary," Mao said.

Chang Yen-chiang, director of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea Research Institute of Dalian Maritime University, revealed several main factors why China is less likely to revoke the ban in the short run.

There is no halt in the ocean discharge, that is, the Japanese side has not withdrawn from their erroneous actions, he said.

Currently, half a year has passed since the dumping began, meaning that under the influence of ocean currents, the impact of Japan's nuclear-contaminated water discharge on East Asia may just be starting, and further impacts need to be assessed, Chang said.

In addition, predatory species higher up in the food chain have a greater chance of experiencing bioaccumulation and biomagnification of radioactive substances. As time goes on and more nuclear-contaminated water is discharged, the negative effects will only increase, Chang said. "Under these circumstances, how could the ban be lifted?" the expert asked.

TEPCO - operator of the Daiichi plant - plans to release a total of about 54,600 tons of nuclear-contaminated water on seven occasions in the 2024 fiscal year, more than double the amount of 2023, according to media reports.  

Chang called on Japan to consider solving the Fukushima nuclear power plant issue on a fundamental level, such as focusing on research on how to handle the burnt-out nuclear reactors. Otherwise, radioactive substances will continue to be produced endlessly, and the discharge of nuclear contamination could last for over 100 years, making the situation increasingly worse. 

Japanese media have reported on a series of scandals concerning leaks occurring during the contaminated water discharge process, which led to soil contamination around the nuclear power plant. 

Most recently, 1.5 metric tons of highly radioactive water escaped in early February during valve checks at a treatment machine designed to remove cesium and strontium from the contaminated water, according to TEPCO. 

According to Japanese experts studying the soil, the radiation levels in Fukushima soil are much higher compared to other areas. 

"We should be more vigilant toward crops and plants grown in this contaminated soil. China should increase radioactive testing of Japanese agricultural products and cosmetics imports," Chang stated.

As Japanese industries, including fisheries and cosmetics, have been affected, Japanese media continues to report news about bilateral talks aimed at getting China to revoke its import ban on Japanese marine products, trying to test the reaction from China.

The Asahi Shimbun revealed Friday that nuclear experts from Japan and China started talks in January regarding contaminated water. The report noted that the Chinese side has still shown no signs of ending its import ban.

The Kyodo News reported on Thursday that when Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wu Jianghao met with the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, in January, China's import suspension was also discussed, but there were no conditions for lifting the ban at present.