September 21, 2021
The release of treated water into the ocean was explained 532 times in advance…
A request for information disclosure made by NHK has revealed that the government claimed to have held a total of 532 “opinion exchanges” and “briefing sessions” regarding the increasing amount of treated water at the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the year leading up to April 2012, when it decided to release the water into the ocean.
On the other hand, even after the decision was made, there are still strong opposition to the release of radioactive materials from fishermen in the prefecture, raising questions about the nature of the discussions.
The government says that the decision to release treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the sea was made after listening to the opinions of related parties, based on the report of a national sub-committee which said that “release into the sea or the atmosphere is realistic.
However, even after the decision was made, a series of resolutions and opinion letters opposing the policy were issued by fishery groups and parliamentary assemblies in Fukushima Prefecture, claiming that there was not enough discussion.
Therefore, NHK requested the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is in charge of the policy, to disclose the documents showing what discussions the government had with the relevant parties before the decision was made.
In response, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) disclosed a list of the subjects and dates of “opinion exchanges” and “briefing sessions” held between January 31, 2011, when the national subcommittee compiled its draft report, and April 13, 2011, when the government decided on the policy of oceanic release.
According to the list, a total of 532 “opinion exchanges” and “briefing sessions” were held in and outside of Fukushima Prefecture over a period of more than one year and two months.
The average number of times per day is two per point, with the highest number of times per day being 14.
The breakdown of the targets, in descending order of frequency, is as follows: heads of local governments in the prefecture 83 times, fishery-related organizations 74 times, and local government councils 72 times.
On the other hand, consumers were interviewed 18 times, the tourism industry 12 times, the head of a local government outside the prefecture 23 times, and the assembly of a local government outside the prefecture 15 times.
Masahiro Matsuura, a professor at Meiji University’s Graduate School of Public Policy who is an expert on science and technology policy and consensus building, said, “It is possible that there was a lack of dialogue in the sense of gaining understanding,” and added, “Having a meeting is not necessarily the same as dialogue, and if it is a one-way explanation meeting, it is no different from an online video or television. Dialogue is only possible when the participating fishermen and the general public speak out and the explanation is given in the form of a catch-all game. Even if an opinion is received, if the bureaucrat without authority continues to say, ‘We will take it back to Tokyo for consideration,’ it is not dialogue. If the prime minister, ministers, and other people who can make substantive decisions came to the meeting and answered specific questions on the spot, it might not have been necessary to hold the meeting as many times. It will be important to evaluate the state of the debate over treated water over time,” he said.
Fishermen: “There was no discussion.
The government has held more than 70 “opinion exchanges” and “briefing sessions” with fishermen, but after the policy was decided, fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture said that the decision was unilateral.
In July 2020, the Soma Futaba Fishermen’s Cooperative Association in the northern part of the prefecture held a total of four briefing sessions for fishermen belonging to the cooperative, divided into four districts.
However, according to the fishermen who participated in the briefings, most of the briefings were about the report compiled by the subcommittee, and they rarely exchanged opinions with each other about the disposal method or reputational measures.
Mr. Masahiro Kikuchi, the vice president of the association, said, “At the time of the briefing, we hadn’t decided whether to release the waste into the ocean or into the air, and there were no concrete explanations about measures against harmful rumors. There were no further meetings, and I feel that the decision was made unilaterally. I think that if they had held monthly meetings with young fishermen, including those who will be responsible for the future of the fishery, and listened to their opinions, they would have come up with an answer that would have satisfied some, if not all, of them.
Co-op: “Not enough explanation to consumers”
More than 70 “opinion exchanges” and “briefing sessions” were held for fishermen, heads of local governments and assemblies in the prefecture, but only 18 briefings were given to consumers.
At Fukushima Prefecture’s Co-op Fukushima, where about 200,000 households in the prefecture are members, no briefing was held by the government before the policy was decided.
Shunkichi Nonaka, the general manager of the co-op, said that he feels that there was an overwhelming lack of opportunities to hear the opinions of consumers, some of whom are opposed to the release of radioactive materials into the ocean due to safety concerns.
Mr. Nonaka said, “All citizens are consumers, and I thought it was necessary to give a broad explanation to consumers, but I think the government and TEPCO did not give enough consideration to this. I think the government and TEPCO should have consulted with us before deciding on the policy of releasing radioactive materials into the ocean and asked us what we thought about it.
The government official said, “We discussed it to a great extent.
Regarding the fact that the government and related parties held more than 500 opinion exchanges and briefing sessions over a period of about one year and two months, Mr. Masato Kino, Counselor of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said, “We have been visiting related parties who are likely to be affected by the rumors due to the disposal of the treated water, and our staff members have been working together to make a list of them. We believe that we have exchanged opinions with all kinds of people to a considerable extent. There were people who opposed the release of treated water into the ocean, but I believe we have incorporated the opinions we have heard into our decision-making process.
As for the fact that we have not gained the understanding of fishermen and others regarding our policy on the release of radioactive materials, he said, “We are doing our best to prevent rumors. I think we are still at the stage where people don’t feel safe, so our mission is to do our best.