Haruo Ono, a 71-year-old fisherman, breaks the silence among most Fukushima fishermen, expressing concerns about Japan’s plan to release treated cooling water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific, emphasizing the potential negative impact on his source of food and employment. He fears damage to their reputation, as seafood is a crucial Japanese industry. 

Most Fukushima fishermen are tight-lipped, but Haruo Ono can’t keep his thoughts on Japan’s plans to release treated cooling water from the stricken nearby nuclear power plant into the Pacific from Thursday.

“Nothing about the water release is beneficial to us. There is no advantage for us. None. It’s all detrimental,” Ono, who lost his brother in the 2011 tsunami that crippled the plant, said. 

“Fishermen are 100 percent against,” the 71-year-old said at his modest home in Shinchimachi, around 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of the nuclear plant in northeast Japan.

“The sea is where we work. We make a living off of the sea. We’re at the mercy of the sea. So if we don’t protect the sea, who would?”

This handout photo taken on August 22, 2023, shows sampling from the upper-steam storage during preparations for the initial discharge of treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture. (Photo by Handout / TOKYO ELECTRIC POWER COMPANY (TEPCO) / AFP)

Around 1.34 million tonnes of water, equivalent to more than 500 Olympic swimming pools, have accumulated at the Fukushima plant since the earthquake and tsunami that killed 18,000 people in 2011.

It has been contaminated by being used to cool the highly radioactive reactor cores that went into meltdown, combined with groundwater and rain.

But plant operator TEPCO says the water has been diluted and filtered to remove all radionuclides except tritium, which is far below dangerous levels.

Reputation damage

The plan gradually to begin releasing the water at a maximum rate of 500,000 litres (132,000 US gallons) a day via a pipe one kilometer (half a mile) out to sea has won approval from the UN nuclear watchdog.

But many in the Japanese fishing industry are worried about the reputation of the country’s seafood, just as it was starting to recover 12 years after the Fukushima disaster.

“Fukushima was seen as something people should avoid (after 2011). Even car number plates from Fukushima was taken off when people had to evacuate to other prefectures,” local artist Tomomi Kodama, 40, expressed. 

A South Korean protester (C) holds a sign reading “Why are you throwing it in the sea?” during a rally against the Japanese government’s plan to release Fukushima wastewater, near the Japanese embassy in Seoul on August 22, 2023. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

“Now, if the water is released from the plant, I am worried about how the world would possibly accept it,” she said.

As well as being a principal source of national pride, seafood is a primary Japanese industry, with almost 600,000 tonnes, worth around $2 billion, exported in 2022.

China is its biggest customer, accounting for around a quarter of this, but Beijing has accused Tokyo of treating the ocean like a “sewer” with the water release.

In a move that experts say is partially motivated by rivalry in other areas, China even before the release banned food shipments from 10 Japanese prefectures and imposed radiation checks for elsewhere.

These time-consuming controls have already led to a 30-percent slump in Japanese seafood imports into China last month, Japanese and Chinese media reported, citing Chinese customs data.

Hong Kong, another important market for Japanese seafood exports, has also threatened restrictions, and it is still being determined how consumers elsewhere will react.


Masanobu Sakamoto, head of Japan’s national fisheries cooperative, reiterated on Monday his opposition to the move.

Fish from Japan is seen in a Japanese supermarket in Hong Kong on August 23, 2023. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

“(Scientific) safety doesn’t necessarily equate to a feeling of security in society. There are concerns that the once the water is discharged, there will be reputational damage,” he said.

“There is no way people in the fisheries’ industry can rest reassured,” he said.

People in the fishing industry “really had a hard time in many aspects (after 2011). And now, after 12 years, they are finally settling down and moving toward happiness, gradually,” said Ono, whose three sons are also fishermen.

“What the government is doing now is to abandon Fukushima. What the government should truly protect is the people of Fukushima, the fishermen, not TEPCO,” he said.

Miroslava Salazar, with AFP