Japan Says Fukushima Water Is Safe. China Dares a Japanese Official to Drink It.

Will Japan’s deputy prime minister put the water where his mouth is?
japan, fukushima, wastewater, china
The official has not responded to the challenge. Photos: ISSEI KATO/AFP via Getty Images (left); Biwa Studio via Getty Images

China has asked a Japanese official to walk the talk after he suggested that the treated water from the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is safe enough to drink.

Japan this week said it would release more than 1.25 million tons of the filtered water into the ocean over decades, much to the objection of the governments of neighboring China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Japan said the wastewater, which contains the radioactive substance tritium, will be so diluted and released over such a long period of time that it will not harm people or marine life. 


“I have heard that we will have no harm if we drink” the treated water, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said at a press conference after announcing the disposal method on Tuesday, according to Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun.

On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected the assertion, saying, “As for the individual Japanese official’s remarks that the water is okay to drink, why doesn’t he take a sip first?” 

Aso has not responded to the apparent challenge.

In response to questions from VICE World News, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry seconded Aso’s suggestion that the treated water is safe to drink.

“Just from the numbers, it’s well within the WHO guidelines. So of course if he drinks it, there won’t be any harm to his health,” a spokesperson said.

“But this discussion of whether he will drink it is a bit difficult, because you can’t prove how safe the water is by drinking it once,” the spokesperson, who declined to be named citing government policy, told VICE World News.

The remarks from Aso came after the Japanese government said it would release water used to cool the melted reactors of the Fukushima power plant into the ocean after processing it. But the process doesn’t remove tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is regularly released in low concentration from nuclear reactors in countries including South Korea and Canada.


Following the Japanese government’s announcement, Zhao said that Japan had not “exhausted safe disposal methods, regardless of domestic and foreign questions and opposition.”

Japanese fishermen have complained that the release will damage their products’ reputation.

The Japanese government has been scrambling to assure people that the released water will not be harmful to public health.

On Tuesday, the government released an animated video featuring a tritium mascot to explain the isotope. However, the video has since been taken down, as critics said it diminished the severity of the debate over nuclear safety. 

Officials the world over, from Flint, Michigan, to Hong Kong, have been challenged to prove the safety of water by drinking it. Some did it. Some refused.

It’s unclear whether Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister, will take up the challenge. The spokesperson from the Japanese trade and industry ministry said his remarks were “another form of communication.” 

“We have the numbers to prove the water is safe, so his statement is another way of verifying that the water is harmless,” the spokesperson said. 

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