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Fishermen: Utility's actions in Japan nuclear crisis 'unforgivable'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Distrust hammers Japan fishing industry
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Merchants at the world's largest fish market estimate an 80% drop in sales
  • Members of Japan's fishery association met Wednesday with Tokyo Electric officials
  • The group cites "rage" among fishermen for what it called "irresponsible behavior"
  • A Japanese official says fishermen will get money for suffering due to the nuclear crisis

Tokyo (CNN) -- Japanese fishermen have taken the offensive in their fight against the owner of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant, angrily calling the utility's actions insulting, incompetent and "unforgivable" over the course of the weeks-long nuclear crisis.

The National Fishery Corporative Joint Association, a trade group for Japan's fishing industry, issued a scathing statement Wednesday just hours after its members met with officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the crippled plant.

In it, the group demanded that the utility and the Japanese government "compensate all parties (that have) indirectly or directly suffered" as a result of the situation.

"Tokyo Electric has not been capable of understanding the damage at the plant and (contaminated) water. That led to this serious situation," the group said in the statement.

"Tokyo Electric and the government (share) responsibility for this situation. It is unforgivable," the message continues. "All those who are living and sustaining their lives on the sea are feeling strong rage against (the utility and the government's) irresponsible behavior."

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Members of the fishing group said they are particularly angry about the decision made and enacted Monday to dump tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. This happened just hours after the group specifically requested it not be done -- leaving its members feeling ignored.

Yoshiaki Saito, who has sold fish for 40 years at Tokyo's Tsukiji Market, told CNN how angry he is at Tokyo Electric. "If we put poison in the river, we'd be arrested," he said. "But TEPCO won't be treated like that. It's unfair."

He's also angry at what he called the "stupid government."

Fishery association representatives Wednesday also blasted Tokyo Electric's claim that nuclear power plants were safe and that such accidents would never happen.

An official from the utility company said Tokyo Electric officials offered apologies and vowed to improve the situation. This was shortly after they confirmed, early Wednesday, that one leak outside the No. 2 reactor, through which water that had radiation levels millions of times the legal limit, was no longer rushing into the sea.

The fishing industry demanded an end to all leaks of contaminated water into the sea "to prevent the death of the fishing industry."

"We demand that Tokyo Electric and the government react to all the problems provoked by this outrageous decision (to dump radioactive water in the sea) and flush out highly contaminated water" now in the ocean, the association said in its statement.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Wednesday apologized for how the government had communicated why the dump of the radioactive water from the plant was necessary.

He explained that it contained 1/200,000ths the level of radiation as that in and around the No. 2 reactor, one of six at the nuclear plant, and that authorities decided to clear out the less radioactive liquid in order to make room in a waste water treatment facility.

"So it was a measure to prevent more serious marine contamination," the Japanese official said. "But we needed to explain the reasoning better to the people (impacted by it)."

Whatever the radiation level, Timothy Jorgensen, chair of the radiation safety committee at Georgetown University Medical Center, explained that this dumped water should quickly dilute considering it is equivalent to dumping five swimming pools worth of water into a Pacific Ocean that has roughly "300 trillion swimming pools full of water."

Still, Japanese authorities have noted higher-than-normal radiation levels in some young eels. And in addition to its impact on aquatic life directly, some fear the mere possibility of radiation in seafood may deter consumers domestically and abroad from eating products that originated in waters off Japan.

Citing such "rumors," Edano said Tuesday that authorities will step up the monitoring of radiation in seafood, partly in a bid to assure the public that whatever gets on the market is safe.

The new Japanese government standards will rely upon enforcement by city and town health inspectors, not those with the prefectures, according to Edano. As with milk and vegetables, certain fish can be removed from the restricted list if levels of radiation come in below the legal limits for three weeks in a row.

As to the fishermen themselves, the Cabinet official said Wednesday that, in addition to a larger compensation package to be decided upon later, the government is considering a preemptive payout.

Merchants at the world's largest fish market, Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, told CNN they have seen an 80% drop in sales.

Similar payments will likely go to farmers, who have been explicitly affected by the nuclear crisis much longer than those in the fishing industry.

Japan first imposed restrictions on the sale and distribution of milk and certain vegetables, like spinach, on March 20 -- more than two weeks before Edano announced Tuesday that radiation levels would similarly be regulated in seafood.

One scientist, whose institute will start conducting research next month tracking radiation off Japan, said it's likely that such levels in fish will increase for six months -- as the contamination gets in the food supply -- then gradually go down over two or more years.

Still, given the standards now being set, he thinks people should feel comfortable eating seafood from Japan.

"The current regulations are quite reasonable," said Jin Misonou, a research fellow for the Tokyo-based Marine Ecology Research Institute. "So, of course, please eat fish. It is good to revive the fishing industry."

CNN's Kyung Lah and journalists Hiroo Saso and Gen Shimada contributed to this report.

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