(Reuters) – Dozens of crabs, three small sharks and scores of fish thump on the slippery deck of the fishing boat True Prosperity as captain Shohei Yaoita lands his latest haul, another catch headed not for the dinner table but for radioactive testing.
Japan’s government banned commercial fishing in this area, some 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Tokyo, after a devastating 2011 tsunami and the reactor meltdowns and explosions that followed at the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, has battled since then to keep radioactive water used to cool the crippled reactor from leaking into the ground and the sea.
The walls of a once-bustling fish market that sold Yaoita’s catch of flounder, rockfish, greenling and other sealife in the port of Hisanohama, about 20 km (12 miles) south of the ruined plant, remain in ruins.
The fishermen and Tepco are in dispute over the utility’s plans to dump 100 tons of groundwater a day from the devastated plant into the sea. The complicated clean-up plan for Fukushima could take 30 years or more.
Tepco’s challenge is what to do with the contaminated water that has been pooling at the plant at a rate of 400 tons a day – enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in a week.
So far it has been racing to build tanks to store the contaminated water on the grounds of the plant, in which all the water is kept at the moment.
It has also asked fishermen to support a plan to build a “by-pass” that would dump groundwater into the sea before it becomes contaminated by flowing under the reactor’s wreckage.
“We are staunchly against it,” said Tatsuo Niitsuma, 71, who fishes with Yaoita.
,000-strong temporary housing settlement.
The fishermen’s opposition to Tepco’s plans underlines deep distrust across radiation-contaminated areas towards Tepco and the government after their uncertain response to the disaster, and a lack of clear information about radiation risks since.
“They say it’s safe, but they had always told us that the nuclear power is safe too – and just look what a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into because of that,” Yaoita said.
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