A chilly dawn paints the sky magenta and purple as Japanese fisherman Haruo Ono unloads his catch of flounder, crab and sea bass from his boat at the small port of Shinchimachi.
A third-generation fisherman, Ono, 71, has been putting to sea for half a century from Shinchimachi, 55 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the scene in 2011 of one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.
On March 11 that year, a 9 magnitude earthquake struck offshore sending tsunami waves smashing into Japan's east coast. Ono rode out the waves at sea on his boat but on land, the waves devastated Shinchimachi and obliterated Ono's home.
The tsunami also crashed into the nuclear plant just down the coast, setting off explosions and meltdowns that released radiation over a wide swathe and shut down fishing for more than a year due to worries about radiation.
More than a decade later, Shinchimachi is still recovering as is its fishing industry but a new threat spawned by the disaster could wipe out the progress made.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which runs the crippled nuclear power station, plans to soon start releasing more than a million tons of radioactive water from the plant into the sea.
"It's been 12 years and fish prices are rising, we're finally hoping to really get down to business," Ono said. "Now they're talking about releasing the water and we're going to have to go back to square one again. It's unbearable."
The water was mainly used to cool reactors in the aftermath of the disaster. It is enough to fill about 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools and is being stored in huge tanks at the plant.
Officials say the tanks have to be removed for reconstruction.
The water is treated, filtered and diluted and TEPCO and the government say it is safe. But it does contains traces of tritium.
Even though the radioactive isotope is considered relatively harmless, the region's fishermen, like its farmers, have been struggling for years to restore the reputation of their produce and now fear the dumped water will kill their business.
"We here in Fukushima have done absolutely nothing wrong, why do they have to mess up our ocean?" Ono said. "The ocean doesn't belong to only us humans - and it isn't a garbage can."
Countries in the region have also been worried about the release though some concerns have been easing.
'WHY NOT TOKYO'
Fukushima has a long, proud fishing tradition. The area used to send its flounder in tribute to feudal lords.
But the waves nearly ended all that. Ono was left with virtually nothing. Though his immediate family survived, a brother was killed in the roiling sea.
Ono's new home stands high inland, surrounded by other new houses on straight roads laid out after the disaster.
His bright main room contains pots of pink geraniums and a photograph of Ono taking part in the 2021 Olympic torch relay.
The area where he used to live has been turned into a park.
"In the tsunami I lost my house, I lost all my possessions, I lost my younger brother. Then we had the nuclear accident," Ono said. "Our pain has been two or three times higher than anybody else's. Why are they still giving us a hard time? Why release water into the Fukushima ocean, why not Tokyo or Osaka?"
Experts like Toshihiro Wada, an associate professor in environment and radiation studies at Fukushima University, said the timing of the release of the water, and the alarmist talk it will bring, was unfortunate.
"Given how carefully fishing has been expanded, and that it's just approaching past levels, it's only natural this timing is a problem for fishermen who fear the impact of rumors," he said.
TEPCO and the government cite radiation testing standards they say are stricter than those of other countries that also release treated water. The release has also been approved by international atomic regulator the IAEA.
"What we say to the fishermen is that we have equipment to treat the water safely," Tomohiko Mayuzumi, a TEPCO spokesperson, told Reuters at the plant.
To prove how harmless it is, TEPCO has been raising flounder in tanks at the plant. A live feed of the flat fish is broadcast on TEPCO's YouTube channel.
Outside, work is underway to extend a pipe into the ocean to release the water from rows of stacked metal tanks.
Ono is gloomy about prospects for the next generation of fishing folk.
"It's OK for me. I'm 71, I'll keep on working at sea until I die," he said. "But what about the kids in primary and junior school? It's way too unstable for them to make a living from this."© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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Awa no Gaijin
Should say pink and purple as the color wheel classify magenta as both pink and purple.
Nice nit picking, Awa.
So, will this release be announced prior to or after the fact? When should the surfing fraternity refrain from their lifestyle of healthy pursuit?
If Fukushima is so safe then why aren’t Japanese politicians gathering there for their regular get togethers?
Endemic corruption is hard to beat! TEPCO execs should be in jail but they are no doubt wining and dining with LDP flunkies!
The following statement will probably be censored by Japan Today.
If the water is so safe, why disperse it into the Pacific Ocean?
"The water is treated, filtered and diluted and TEPCO and the government say it is safe. But it does contains traces of tritium."
-Who exactly has deemed the the water 'safe'? Names please, so the individuals can be held accountable.
flounder, crab…bottom feeders in one of the most radioactive sea regions in the whole wide word. Yum yum.
Japanese government and Tepco who had repeated falsehood and deception about nuclear plants insist as if Fukushima radioactive contaminated water is safe, but they never don't dump it in Tokyo, never use it to other purpose.
Japanese authorities conveniently distorted even science to prioritize political and economical benefit than health and the lives, has past that had caused many victim historically.
And, present Japanese major media who are scared at angry of regime have no even power to see through and criticize deception of authorities.
I don't think the gov or Tepco lies about the degree of water contamination as many other countries do release water containing tritium.
However I still oppose the releasing water because it would be very possible to take 100 years to decompose the power plant. Who knows the total of the released water can NEVER affect the environment or any health?
Now majority of people world wide think the water is harmfully contaminated. Once any negative effect is found, Japan will be in seriously difficult situation.
The water could be safe with the amount of tritium that they will release, but what happens if you consume a fish that growth in that water, the long term effect is something that either corporations and politics never take in consideration, they only think about the next period and the earnings that they can get.
This is nothings like other countries.
This water has been used to cool down the naked core of a nuclear reactor.
Didn't you bother to read the article?
According to what they say, the contaminations other than tritium are all removed by the ALPS. In that sense the released water is comparable to that other countries have released so far. That's their theory... I don't want to doubt about that... We will see in decades...