[Analytics] Japan’s decision to discharge nuclear-contaminated water has affected its exports

In this Nov. 12, 2014, file photo, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) official wearing radioactive protective gear stands in front of Advanced Liquid Processing Systems during a press tour at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

Thirteen years have passed since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was crippled by the massive earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Japanese government found a way to “get rid of the problem,” while the rest of the world knows that the problem was not solved.

Since last August, Japan has been discharging nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the sea, despite strong opposition from both domestic citizens and neighboring countries. It has discharged three batches of nuclear-contaminated water so far, with a cumulative discharge of about 23,400 tons.

On February 28, 2024, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began the fourth discharge of nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, with a discharge of about 7,800 tons.

Since this is the first large-scale nuclear-contaminated water discharge in human history, it is highly controversial. Artificial radionuclides entering the sea migrate in various media nearby and even into the distant ocean through such as seawater diffusion, biological feeding, animal migration, food chain transport and particle deposition could cause pollution to the marine ecological environment.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, and the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the sea will directly affect the fishing grounds of the North Pacific, and then affect the world through the water cycle, the atmospheric cycle and the food chain, subsequently affecting the global marine and freshwater aquaculture industry, but the timing and extent of the impact have yet to be verified.

The negative impact of the Japanese government’s plan to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the sea is long-term and irreversible, ignoring a series of basic rights such as the safety of human life and health.

The General Administration of Customs of China decided to completely suspend the import of aquatic products, including edible aquatic animals, originating in Japan from August 24, 2023. A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Chinese authorities have taken emergency measures against aquatic products originating in Japan, which is a legitimate and reasonable measure necessary to safeguard food safety and public health.

In order to fully prevent the potential risk of radioactive contamination caused by the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea, protect the health of consumers, and ensure the safety of imported food, China, as a sovereign country, certainly has the right to take relevant preventive trade measures.

China was the largest export market for Japan’s agricultural products in the first half of 2023, accounting for around 20 percent of the total export value. For Japanese companies, it is clear that the huge demand from the Chinese market is difficult to refuse. No matter how the regional and global geopolitical environment changes, the role of the Chinese market in Japan’s trade is irreplaceable.

Japan’s persistent discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, despite the protests of many of its own people and the strong opposition of its neighbors such as China and the Republic of Korea, will further damage the local fishing industry in Japan, which is deeply dependent on marine ecology. The local population in Fukushima are the hardest hit, especially the fishermen, for whom, Japan’s decision was catastrophic in terms of their employment.

In January 2024, trade statistics released by the General Administration of Customs of China showed that imports of aquatic products from Japan in 2023 amounted to $299.49 million, a decrease of 40.9 percent from the previous year. Among them, shellfish and products were $180 million, down 47.8 percent year-on-year, and fish and products were $120 million, down 25.9 percent year-on-year. In particular, China’s suspension of the import of Japanese aquatic products since August 2023 has exacerbated the decline.

Shortly after Japan began to discharge nuclear-contaminated water into the sea, China, the Republic of Korea, and other countries and regions decided to suspend all or part of the imports of Japanese aquatic products. This has had a huge impact on the Japanese agricultural and fishing industries, which are dependent on international trade.

In addition to affecting its exports in the short term, Japan’s decision to discharge nuclear-contaminate water could have a lasting negative impact on the trust of foreign consumers in Japanese products. Amidst the fear and anxiety of nuclear contamination, rebuilding that trust will be easier said than done.

Yu Hong, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a senior research fellow of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

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