U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel chowed down on fresh fish during a visit to Fukushima on Thursday, saying he had “no reservations” about doing so despite Chinese complaints that Japan is releasing radioactive wastewater into the sea from the damaged nuclear power plant in the city.
The Fukushima plant was badly damaged by a 2011 tsunami that nearly led to a nuclear catastrophe at the time, but Japan argues the release of the water is both necessary and safe, and a United Nations regulatory agency has given its blessing.
Emanuel cast his decision as an effort to side with Japan and against “economic coercion” from Japan.
“The United States stands firmly with Japan, especially when contrasted with China’s overtly political decision to ban all Japanese seafood imports and past failures in openness and scientific cooperation,” he said in the Embassy statement to reporters. “In a world where truth and trust are paramount, Japan’s unwavering commitment to science and transparency is a leading example, and I’m honored to stand in solidarity with them.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pulled a similar stunt earlier this week to demonstrate the confidence in seafood safety. According to Agence France-Presse, Emanuel noshed on flounder, tuna and bass and got some more to take home.
The Hill has reached out to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo for comment.
China announced last week it would ban all seafood from Japan after the Fukushima plant began to release the decade-old diluted and treated radioactive wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.
“The Chinese government always puts our people’s wellbeing first, and will take all measures necessary to safeguard food safety and the health of our people,” Chinese officials said in a statement.
The release of the water has also come under public criticism from people in South Korea and other Asian nations.
In a local op-ed published ahead of the visit, Emanuel slammed China’s decision to ban Japanese seafood and called out China for “its clandestine efforts to influence other nations to isolate Japan,” calling them “egregious at best.”
Emanuel argued that Japan has gone to extreme measures to ensure the plan to treat and release wastewater met international safety and health standards – noting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) conclusion that Japan’s plan would have a “negligible radiological impact” on its surroundings – and drew a contrast to China’s handling of public health issues.
“There is a stark contrast to be made and lesson to be learned from Japan’s meticulous handling of Fukushima’s treated water compared with China’s approach to public health challenges that have originated in its own backyard, such as avian flu, SARS and COVID-19,” Emanuel wrote.
“One cannot help but wonder how different the global health landscape would be and how many lives would have been saved if China had engaged in even a fraction of the due diligence, openness and international cooperation that Japan has in managing Fukushima,” he continued. “In those cases, China’s response was marked by a lack of transparency, accountability or timely information sharing with the global community. This not only hampered an effective response in real time but has also led to the loss of countless lives.”