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Chinese Strategy to Counter Japan’s Release of Treated Nuclear Water Aims to Secure Diplomatic Edge, Analysts Say

China announced on Aug. 24 that it would impose a ban on all imports of Japanese seafood due to Japan’s release of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. The plan to release the water was approved by Tokyo two years ago, and last month it received clearance from the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The discharge is a necessary step in the decommissioning process of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that the release adheres to international safety standards and will have a negligible impact on both humans and the environment.

The Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the plant, began releasing the treated wastewater into the sea about 0.6 miles offshore on Aug. 24. Before the release, they diluted 1 ton of nuclear process water with approximately 1,200 tons of seawater, storing it in a large tank. Final measurements of tritium concentration were taken, showing a maximum emission of 63 becquerels per liter, well below the World Health Organization’s limit of 10,000 becquerels per liter for drinking water.

Within hours of the discharge, some Asian nations responded to the issue. South Korea’s Prime Minister assured the public that as long as experts worldwide agree that the discharge meets scientific standards and international procedures, there is no cause for concern. Taiwan’s foreign ministry stated that it is a scientific matter and respected the views of experts. The Philippines’ foreign ministry expressed understanding of the professionalism of the IAEA.

However, neighboring countries, particularly their fisheries and fish consumers, expressed opposition and concern. This sentiment is also present within Japan itself, with some individuals disagreeing with the government’s discharge program.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strongly opposed the release, labeling the treated wastewater as “nuclear wastewater.” Additionally, China’s customs authorities announced the suspension of all seafood imports from Japan starting Aug. 24.

Commenting on China’s hardline stance, Professor Nobumasa Akiyama of Hitotsubashi University explained that China’s opposition serves as a means to gain diplomatic advantages rather than solely being concerned about environmental pollution from the discharge.

In response to China’s seafood ban, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has requested that China reverse the decision through diplomatic channels, emphasizing the safety of the treated wastewater and urging a reliance on scientific evidence. Japan has also allocated significant funding to support the fishing industry and mitigate potential losses.

Prime Minister Kishida also noted that the IAEA released a statement on Aug. 24 affirming that the tritium concentration in the discharged water is significantly below the required standard. The IAEA plans to frequently release monitoring data in the near future to enhance transparency and make all data available to the international community.

Amidst the criticism, the CCP has incited anti-Japanese sentiment, leading the Japanese Embassy in Beijing to issue a safety reminder to Japanese nationals residing in China.

Regarding China’s own emissions, a study conducted by Professor Zhang Jianmin of Tsinghua University and other experts indicated that Japan’s discharge of nuclear-treated water would not pose a problem for mainland China. The study demonstrated that it would take 240 days for the discharged water to reach the Chinese coast due to ocean currents. Furthermore, Chinese nuclear energy expert Li Jianmang emphasized that the nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima plant should not be a cause for concern based on scientific data. However, his post on Weibo was deleted and his account suspended.

It is worth noting that the Fukushima Daiichi plant releases 22 trillion becquerels of tritium annually, while several nuclear power plants in China discharge more tritium per year than Fukushima.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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