Chinese seafood traders angry, anxious as Japan begins Fukushima wastewater release

By Martin Quin Pollard and Xiaoyu Yin

BEIJING (Reuters) - Vendors at Beijing's largest seafood market said they were angry and scared for their future as Japan began to release treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.

Amidst a wave of condemnation in Chinese state and social media, and just before China announced a ban on the import all aquatic products from Japan, several traders at Beijing's Jingshen seafood market expressed their fears and criticised Japan's decision.

"The online public opinion is saying that in the future, seafood won't be called 'seafood' anymore, but 'nuclear-seafood," said 22-year-old vendor, Li Yuxuan. "So the impact is indeed substantial."

On both Wednesday and Thursday, Chinese state media reposted the results of a Tsinghua University study, first published in 2021, which predicted traces of the radioactive isotope Tritium could reach waters off China's coast after around eight months.

State media also widely shared an apocalyptic looking, speeded up computer generated representation of how the study predicted pollutants would, over the coming years, spread right across the Pacific Ocean and into seas in East and South East Asia.

Hashtags related to the release generated hundreds of millions of reads on the popular social media platform Weibo, and thousands of fiercely anti-Japanese comments from users, including many posts who called for Japan to be severely punished or even "blown up".

"The earth can manage without Japan, but not without seafood," wrote a user registered in Shanxi province, a post liked over a hundred thousand times.

Tokyo has criticised China for spreading "scientifically unfounded claims." It maintains the water release is safe, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also concluded the impact it would have was "negligible."

But at the market on Thursday, some vendors were not convinced.

"Japan saying that is complete crap," said a vendor surnamed Liu. "How could it not have any effect? If it didn’t, then why would they discharge it into the open sea? Can't they just keep it in their own country?"

Of eight traders at the market who Reuters spoke to on Thursday all said that even before the ban, they were no longer purchasing or selling Japanese seafood. Some said they are now getting imports from the United States, Canada or Russia instead.

Japanese restaurant owners in both mainland China and Hong Kong have also been scrambling to adapt to the restrictions and expressed fears about heightened checks.

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Xiaoyu Yin; Editing by Lincoln Feast)