Dive into this exposé as we uncover how China’s orchestrated campaign of misinformation, misleading claims, and emotional incitement is fueling outrage over the Fukushima water discharge issue.

Let’s start with basics first – What happened to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant? And why is the discharge of water important?

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a major nuclear accident that occurred on March 11, 2011, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It was triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant’s backup power and cooling systems, leading to meltdowns and explosions in three of the six reactors. The accident released large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the surrounding areas.

The consequences of the disaster included the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods for many people, as well as the disruption of electricity supply, transportation, and communication networks. The radiation exposure also posed health risks for the workers who tried to contain the crisis, as well as for the residents who remained or returned to the affected areas. The long-term consequences of the disaster include increased risks of cancer and other diseases, environmental contamination and degradation, social and psychological impacts, and economic losses.

However, Japan made serious efforts to contain the radiation from the nuclear disaster and in later years started working to make the area habitable by discharging the contaminated water of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant into the Pacific Ocean. 

Is it Safe to Discharge the Contaminated Water? 

According to several scientific community it is safe. Japan claims that the water is safe to release and the plan has been approved by the Japanese cabinet and supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will monitor the discharge process. The treated water meets international standards and poses negligible radiological impact on people and the environment. The water has been processed to remove most of the radioactive elements, except for tritium, which is a low-energy beta emitter that can be easily diluted and dispersed in the ocean. 

The concentration of tritium in the water is around 1,500 becquerels per liter, which is below the World Health Organization’s limit for drinking water of 10,000 becquerels per liter. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has approved and monitored the discharge process, and has stated that it is in line with global practices.

How is Japan going to Execute Discharge Operation?

  • The release is expected to take about 30 years to complete, and will involve discharging more than a million tonnes of water. The water will be diluted further before it is released, reducing the radiation dose to marine life and humans.
  • The water will be mixed with seawater at a ratio of 1:100, which will lower the tritium concentration to about 15 becquerels per liter. This is comparable to the background levels of tritium in the ocean, which range from 1 to 20 becquerels per liter. 
  • The radiation dose from the diluted water will be much lower than the natural background radiation from cosmic rays, radon gas, and potassium-40 in seawater. 
  • The dose will also be below the detection limit of most instruments, making it unlikely to affect marine organisms or human health. The water will be released gradually over a long period of time, allowing for natural dispersion and decay of tritium.

Then why there is so much opposition to this operation?

The issue is in the news because Japan has started releasing the treated water into the ocean on August 24, 2023, after months of delay and opposition from various countries mainly from China and it’s mouthpieces. China have expressed concern and criticism over the potential environmental and health impacts of the discharge, as well as the lack of transparency and consultation by Japan. Some fishermen, consumers, and environmentalists have also protested against the plan, fearing that it will damage the marine ecosystem and the reputation of seafood products from the region.

However upon further diving into the issue, it is clear that the concerns are just political and the dissent and protests were fuelled by misinformation. And here is how China does it.

  • Mis-attributed videos: Some videos that have been circulated on Chinese social media and state media claim to show the negative effects of the Fukushima water discharge, such as sea life turning up dead on beaches, mass protests in Japan, and a Japanese official who drank treated water from Fukushima at a 2011 press conference and died. However, these videos are either fake, manipulated, or taken out of context. For example, the video of the dead sea life was actually filmed in Chile in 2016, the video of the protest was from South Korea, and the Japanese official who drank the water is still alive.
  • Misleading claims: Some claims that have been made by Chinese officials, state media, and influencers are either false or misleading, such as that Japan’s plan lacks sufficient scientific evidence, that the treated water poses a great harm to the environment and human health, and that Japan has neither offered alternative plans nor consulted extensively with the international community. These claims ignore or contradict the facts that the treated water meets international standards, that the release has been approved by the UN atomic watchdog and other experts, and that Japan has been transparent and cooperative with relevant stakeholders.
  • Emotional incitement: Some messages that have been disseminated by Chinese sources appeal to the emotions and sentiments of the Chinese people, such as nationalism, patriotism, historical grievances, and environmental concerns. These messages often use inflammatory language and imagery to portray Japan as an irresponsible and untrustworthy neighbour, and to urge the Chinese people to take action against Japan, such as boycotting Japanese products, protesting outside Japanese institutions, or harassing Japanese citizens. These messages also imply or suggest that China is a responsible and benevolent leader in the region and the world, and that it has the moral authority and duty to oppose Japan’s plan.

The Consequences?

The misinformation is amplifying this controversy and spreading animosity between people by creating fear, anger, distrust, and hostility among the Chinese public towards Japan and its people. They are also undermining the scientific consensus and rational dialogue on this issue, and potentially harming the bilateral relations and regional stability between China and Japan.

The business and relationship between China and Japan have been affected by the misinformation and propaganda surrounding the Fukushima water discharge issue. The propaganda have created distrust and hostility among consumers and businesses, leading to boycotts, protests, and harassment of Japanese products and companies in China. For example, some Chinese netizens have called for boycotting Japanese cosmetics, cars, and anime, while some Japanese businesses have received threatening phone calls or messages from Chinese customers.

In other hand, the reaction of the Japanese side to the propaganda has been mainly defensive and dismissive. The Japanese government has tried to explain the scientific basis and safety measures of the water discharge plan, reassuring the international community and the public of its transparency. Some Japanese media outlets have also exposed or debunked some of the fake or misleading content from China. 

On August 30 Japanese PM Fumio Kishida in a press appearance ate seafood from the Fukushima coast reassuring the people about the radiation after several days of the water discharge.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster still is an ongoing issue that affects many aspects of life in Japan and beyond. And taking advantage of such a delicate matter shows how low China can go to further its interest.

By Subhakanta Bhanja

Subhakanta Bhanja is a multi-disciplinary writer with a passion for exploring the intersections of science, technology, and geopolitics. A Utkal University graduate with a background in Science, he brings a unique perspective to the world of writing, combining technical knowledge with an understanding of the political and social implications of new innovations.