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China to Japanese official: If treated radioactive water from Fukushima is safe, ‘please drink it’

Fishing boats are seen at Ukedo port with a backdrop of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 13. (Yusuke Ogata/Kyodo News via AP)
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A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry challenged Japan’s deputy prime minister Wednesday to drink treated water, contaminated from contact with reactors, from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, after the Japanese official suggested the water released would be safe to consume.

“A Japanese official said it’s okay if you drink this water,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing. “Then please drink it.”

“The ocean is not Japan’s trash can,” Zhao also said. The Chinese official also tweeted a similar message in English.

Japan to release Fukushima nuclear plant water into ocean after treatment

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks came after the Japanese government announced Tuesday it had decided to release into the sea more than 1 million tons of water collected from Fukushima, which melted down during a 2011 nuclear disaster following a tsunami.

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso had said the treated, diluted water would be safe to drink and he thinks the country should have released the water earlier.

The plan is to begin releasing the water in two years and continue slowly over decades. The Japanese government has said the water will be treated further to remove dangerous isotopes and diluted to meet World Health Organization standards for drinking water, although it would not be able to remove one contaminant, tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be supervising the operation. Radiation experts have played down the fears about the water, too, suggesting ingesting it would result in only a minute dose of radiation and the tritium in the water would quickly pass through the body.

The decision was made as Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, was running out of storage space for water at the site, Japanese officials said.

But Japan’s neighbors in China and South Korea have voiced concern about the move, while fisherman and other groups have also expressed worries.

China’s Zhao, known for his aggressive style of diplomacy, has responded at length to the issues surrounding Fukushima water this week, denying on Tuesday the suggestion that China had itself been in a comparable situation when it released treated radioactive water from power plants into the sea.

Chinese records show local power plants such as Daya Bay in Shenzhen also have released large amounts of tritium into the sea. Zhao said the water from Fukushima was different from the water that other nuclear plants released into the ocean.

“No comparison can be drawn between the two,” he said, without further explanation.

Zhao on Thursday brought up the cases of Minamata disease in Japan caused by mercury-tainted water dumped into the sea by a chemical company in the mid-20th century, calling on Tokyo not to “forget this tragedy.”

It is not clear whether Zhao’s challenge to Aso was meant literally, or how the deputy prime minister would be able to drink the radioactive water before it was diluted with seawater. Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe publicly ate seafood caught off the coast near the plant at several points to reassure consumers.

Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s successor, is visiting Washington this week to meet with President Biden. Suga is the first foreign leader to visit Biden since the U.S. inauguration and the two will hold a summit on Friday where China is expected to be a major topic of discussion.

Although the United States has offered its support for Japan’s move on the Fukushima water, Zhao said Wednesday that the Japanese side must reach an agreement with all stakeholder countries before it can proceed. “China reserves the right to make further responses,” Zhao said.

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