Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tetsuro Nomura holds a press conference at the ministry in Tokyo on September 1, 2023. (Kyodo)

Japan’s fisheries minister apologized on Friday for calling treated radioactive wastewater discharged from the Fukushima nuclear power plant “contaminated,” and the opposition bloc urged him to resign.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tetsuro Nomura’s comment came as the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scrambling to address reputational damage to seafood from the sea around the prefecture of Northeast Japan.

The term “contaminated water” is used by China, which has strongly opposed the dumping and has imposed a blanket import ban on Japanese seafood.

The 79-year-old lawmaker, who has come under fire from Fukushima residents, backed away from his use of the term “contaminated water” hours after using it on Thursday when answering questions from reporters.

On Friday, Nomura told a news conference that he was “very sorry for causing inconvenience to the residents of Fukushima and other related people.” He ruled out resigning, stating that he wanted to fulfill his duty to support the fishing industry.

In another press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the government’s top spokesman, called Nomura’s comment “regrettable” and expressed hope that he would do everything possible to help fishing companies “with the maximum determination”.

But Kenta Izumi, leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Constitutional Party, lashed out at Nomura, saying he is “not qualified” to be the minister in charge of aid measures for the fishing industry.

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Meanwhile, there was speculation that Kishida would reshuffle his cabinet at the end of the month to improve his government’s image and replace Nomura.

The term “contaminated water” is used by China, which has strongly opposed the dumping and has imposed a blanket import ban on Japanese seafood.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday that Nomura’s reference to contaminated water “is nothing more than mentioning the truth.”

Wang told a news conference that Tokyo’s use of the term treated water “ignores objective facts” and is “just an attempt by Japan to cover up the damage” of the ocean spill and mislead international and public opinion.

Massive amounts of wastewater have been generated in the fuel cooling process of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which suffered core meltdowns after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Japan, however, claims that most radionuclides, except for tritium, are removed from the water after passing through the Advanced Liquid Processing System. On August 24, the country began to dump the water into the Pacific.

The Japanese government describes it as “ALPS-treated water,” an acronym for the purification system. Radiation levels in seawater samples collected by the Ministry of the Environment since the spill began have remained below detectable limits.


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