U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel will visit a city in Japan's northeastern prefecture of Fukushima on Aug. 31, and plans to eat fish from the area to show support for Tokyo's decision to release treated radioactive water from a crippled nuclear plant there into the sea, an embassy official said Wednesday.
In a phone interview with Kyodo News, Emanuel said he will meet with local fishermen, residents and officials during the visit, which is intended to "physically show support and then to express confidence in the process that Japan has methodically pursued."
The envoy's plan to visit the coastal city of Soma comes after the Japanese government has decided to start the water discharge on Thursday amid strong opposition from China.
The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in July that the Japanese plan aligns with global safety standards and would have a "negligible radiological impact on people and the environment," giving a green light to the government's final decision on Wednesday to begin the discharge.
Emanuel said his itinerary includes eating fish caught in the area at a restaurant, visiting a seafood market and being with the city's mayor.
He stressed that Japan's process for releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was wrecked by a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, has been "fully transparent, scientifically based and internationally recognized."
He said his intention is to "show not only solidarity, but the safety" of the move, and that Japan is "following the right course here."
While criticizing China for being "reckless" with its own nuclear waste, he said Japan has acted as an "internationally responsible nation" in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, voicing hope that Tokyo will continue to work closely with the U.N. agency to vigilantly monitor the impact of the water release.
He pointed out that the amount of radioactive tritium in wastewater from Chinese nuclear plants on its coast is far greater than from the Fukushima plant.
"I wish they were half as good as Japan when it comes to disposing of the water," he said, referring to China.
"Maybe China one day will follow the example of Japan rather than being reckless with their nuclear wastewater, and reckless with their rhetoric."
"If China wants, they can always adopt the same stringent standards Japan adopted. I haven't seen them ever do it," Emanuel said, adding that Beijing has a chance at any time to prove him and other critical voices in the international community wrong.
Tritium is known to be less harmful to the human body than other radioactive materials, but health concerns also persist in Japan, making local fishermen anxious that the reputation of their seafood products could be further tarnished.
Among Japan's neighboring countries, South Korea "respects" and "trusts" the IAEA's assessment, according to President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has played an active role in improving bilateral ties.
But South Korean opposition lawmakers and some citizens have protested against Japan's decision.
Since the nuclear disaster, the water has been treated using an advanced liquid processing system capable of removing most radionuclides except tritium, and stored in over 1,000 tanks installed at the site of the nuclear plant.
The tanks, now containing about 1.34 million tons, are nearing their capacity and are likely to reach their limit as early as 2024 unless Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. initiates the discharge.
The Japanese government and TEPCO have insisted that further increasing the number of tanks would be difficult, and that releasing the accumulating water into the ocean is essential to carry on with the decommissioning work that requires storage and other facilities to be built on the site.