U.S. ambassador to Japan will publicly eat Fukushima fish amid radioactive water release outrage

Japan began releasing more than 1 million metric tons of radioactive water from a wrecked nuclear power plant on Thursday, prompting widespread concerns over contamination and safety.

The contaminated water, which underwent treatment to significantly reduce its radioactivity, came from the Fukushima nuclear plant—the site of one of the most catastrophic nuclear meltdowns in history.

The decision to release the wastewater has been a controversial one, sparking protests in Japan and further afield in South Korean capital Seoul from anti-nuclear activists and those concerned about contamination.

Greenpeace slammed the move as “deliberate pollution,” and said it was “outraged” by the releasing of the water.

A spokesperson for the Japanese government was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Fortune.

The water has been treated via a filtering process, leaving it contaminated with just one radioactive isotope, tritium. Tritium cannot be removed, so it has been diluted instead—which Tokyo has insisted means it will be safe to release.

The U.N. has backed Japan’s assessment of the situation, with the organization’s nuclear regulator saying it is safe to release the water, and that doing so will have a negligible impact on environmental health.

Meanwhile, South Korea, one of the biggest export markets for Japanese seafood, issued an official statement on Tuesday to assure its people there were no “scientific or technical problems” with the Japanese government’s plans.

U.S ambassador ready to eat Fukushima fish

Those reassurances have not managed to sway public opinion, however.

Protestors gathered in Japan and South Korea this week to push back against the release of the radioactive water, with much of the concern centering around possible contamination, particularly of seafood.

In a bid to assuage lingering concerns over Japanese seafood, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, said in an interview on Thursday that he would publicly eat seafood from Fukushima to demonstrate his confidence in its safety.

Emanuel told Japan’s Kyodo news agency that he would visit Fukushima on Aug. 31 to “physically show support and then to express confidence in the process that Japan has methodically pursued.”

The itinerary for his visit to the city would involve meeting with its mayor, visiting a seafood market and eating fish caught in the area at a restaurant, according to Kyodo.

Emanuel—who formerly served as mayor of Chicago and ex-U.S. president Barack Obama’s chief of staff—said this would “show not only solidarity, but the safety” of the water release.

He also insisted that Japan was “following the right course” and that research into the impact of the discharge had been “fully transparent, scientifically based and internationally recognized.”   

Fortune reached out to the U.S. embassy in Japan for comment.

In July, a public survey found that 62% of South Koreans would cut back or stop eating seafood after the water was discharged, according to news agency Reuters – despite Seoul pledging to closely monitor the release.

In recent weeks, some consumers in China – Japan’s biggest export market for seafood – also questioned whether it would be safe to eat the country’s seafood products after the water was released into the ocean.

On Thursday, Beijing announced that it was banning Japanese seafood products in response to the water’s release.

Japan exported 634,000 tons of marine products in 2022, according to local media, with the market valued at 387.3 billion yen ($2.6 billion). However, marine products make up just 1% of the country’s global trade.

Japan itself, though, is one of the world’s biggest consumers of seafood, with half of its seafood demand having to be met by imports and around 80% of its domestically produced seafood staying on its own shores.

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