Fishermen and other locals in northeastern Japan have expressed opposition to the government's decision Tuesday to begin discharging treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea later this week.

One fishing industry worker in coastal Fukushima Prefecture said the decision to start releasing the water Thursday was a "surprise attack" because it was made without the national fisheries federation first being notified. In the capital, too, activists came out to protest the move.

Takashi Nakajima, who runs a supermarket in Soma in the prefecture that sells local seafood, expressed anger, saying, "It's like a scheme to release the water before public opposition can flare up."

The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with the head of Japan's fishing federation in a bid to gain understanding for the plans, with the decision made despite concerns in northeastern Japan's Tohoku region over reputational damage.

Fishermen prepare to set sail from Matsukawaura fishing port in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

Nakajima said he could never forget the way customers had flatly refused to sample local octopus in 2012, shortly after trial fishing began in nearby waters following the nuclear accident triggered by a devastating earthquake and tsunami the preceding year.

"Catch from the area won't sell, it will be a repeat of before," the 67-year-old said.

Meanwhile, a worker at a local produce market for tourists in Iwaki, Fukushima, said, "I'm not worried because they're probably releasing the water because it's okay to do so," calling for enhancing the attractiveness of the region.

Makoto Sakamaki, 38, who visited the shop from Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo, expressed the view that the lack of explanation by the government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is causing confusion.

But he added, "I will continue buying tasty Fukushima fish."

Masanobu Sakamoto, the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations who met Kishida on Monday over the plans, reiterated his organization's objection to the measures following the government decision.

"Our opposition to the ocean release plan, which cannot gain understanding from fishery operators and the people, remains totally unchanged," the statement said.

And while Sakamoto acknowledged that "scientific understanding of safety has deepened" over the issue, he said it "differs from social confidence, and citing scientific safety will not stop reputational damage."

In response to concerns from the fishing community, the government has established two separate funds worth 30 billion yen ($206 million) and 50 billion yen for responding to any harmful rumors and for supporting local fishermen in sustaining their businesses, respectively.

In a meeting with Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori, TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa vowed to "respond with the resolve not to betray the trust of the people of Fukushima Prefecture and the country as a whole."

Hundreds of kilometers from the crippled plant, anti-nuclear activists also gathered outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo to oppose the government decision, with an anti-nuclear campaign group saying some 230 people joined the protest.

People protest outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Aug. 22, 2023, against the Japanese government's decision to release radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea. (Kyodo)

Participants urged the government to "listen to the voices of fishermen" and not to discharge "contaminated water into the sea."

"We don't know how long the water release will take and it will leave a debt for future generations," said Masashi Tani, director of the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs, speaking in front of the protesters.

"A concrete path toward decommissioning nuclear reactors must come first," Tani said.

Miwako Kitamura, a 55-year-old resident of Chiba Prefecture who attended the rally, said, "It is unacceptable that this decision has been forced through even with opposition from many of the people and from the fishing industry in Tohoku."

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