A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry challenged Japan’s deputy prime minister Wednesday to drink treated water, contaminated from contact with reactors, from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, after the Japanese official suggested the water released would be safe to drink.
“A Japanese official said, it’s OK if you drink this water,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a press briefing. “Then please drink it.”
“The ocean is not Japan’s trash can,” Zhao also said. The Chinese official also tweeted a similar message in English.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks came after the Japanese government announced Tuesday it had decided to release into the sea more than 1 million tons of water collected from Fukushima, which melted down during a 2011 nuclear disaster following a tsunami.
Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso had said that the treated, diluted water would be safe to drink and that he believed the country should have released the water earlier.
The plan is to begin releasing the water in two years and continue slowly over the course of decades. The Japanese government has said that the water will be treated further to remove dangerous isotopes and diluted to meet World Health Organization standards for drinking water, though it would not be able to remove one contaminant, tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be supervising the operation. Radiation experts have downplayed the fears about the water too, suggesting that ingesting the water would only result in a minute dose of radiation and that the tritium in the water would quickly pass through the body.
The decision was made as Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, was running out of storage space for water at the site, according to Japanese officials.
But Japan’s neighbors in China and South Korea have voiced concern about the move, while local fisherman and other groups have also expressed worries.
China’s Zhao, known for his aggressive style of diplomacy, has responded at length to the issues surrounding Fukushima water this week, on Tuesday denying the suggestion that China had itself been in a comparable situation when it released treated radioactive water from power plants into the sea.
Chinese records show that local power plants like Daya Bay in Shenzhen have also released large amounts of tritium into the sea. Zhao said that the water from the Fukushima was different from that released to the ocean by other nuclear plants.
“No comparison can be drawn between the two,” he said, without further explanation.
Zhao on Thursday brought up the cases of Minamata disease in Japan caused by mercury-tainted water dumped into the sea by a chemical company in the mid-20th century, calling on Tokyo to not “forget this tragedy.”
It is not clear if Zhao’s challenge to Aso was meant literally, or how the deputy prime minister would be able to drink the radioactive water before it was diluted with seawater. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly ate seafood caught off the coast near the plant at several points to reassure consumers.
Abe’s successor as prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, is visiting Washington this week to meet with President Biden. Suga is the first foreign leader to visit Biden since his inauguration and the two are holding a summit on Friday where China is expected to be a major topic of discussion.
While the United States has offered its support for Japan’s move on the Fukushima water, Zhao said Wednesday that the Japanese side needed to reach an agreement with all stakeholder countries before it could proceed. “China reserves the right to make further responses,” Zhao said.