- - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

KAMAISHI, Japan | It’s not hard to see how the tsunami crippled northern Japan’s fishing industry, which once provided a quarter of the nation’s seafood.

Boats are strewn across the disaster zone - on top of houses and cars, in ravines and city centers - everywhere, it seems, except the sea.

It’s much harder to see how radioactive elements from the leaking Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant could damage the fishing industries of Japan and other Pacific nations.

After researchers found radiation above legal limits in small fish about 50 miles south of the plant, Japanese consumers have avoided seafood, a staple of their diet. Usually placid fishermen are venting anger at the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco).

“We lost many loved ones, ships, ports, facilities, and on top of that, we are suffering from marine damage caused by the incident at the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant,” Tetsu Nozaki, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, said in a letter to Tepco shown to the media. “We strongly protest and urge you to stop dumping into the sea.”

The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives Associations also issued a protest statement that fishermen are “extremely angry” about Tepco’s “irresponsible” dumping of contaminated water into the ocean without first consulting fishermen.

The head of the federation, Ikuhiro Hattori, suggested the dumping could undermine the entire Japanese fishing industry, long the heart and soul of this island nation.

Mr. Hattori went directly to Tepco’s headquarters Wednesday. According to Kyodo News, he told Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata that the toxic dumping is “unforgivable.”

Mr. Katsumata promised to discuss the issue with the government and pay fishermen compensation “as much as possible.”

Mr. Hattori also told NHK state television that “from now on, our fishermen will never cooperate with or accept nuclear power generation. I would like them to stop even those reactors that are now in operation right away.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Wednesday said the government’s compensation program would cover fishermen as well as farmers, but he gave no estimate of figures.

Mr. Edano also conceded that the government should have informed the public and neighboring countries about the toxic dumping into the Pacific, where many nations harvest seafood in international waters.

Meanwhile, after notching a rare victory by stopping highly radioactive water from flowing into the Pacific on Wednesday, workers at the flooded Fukushima nuclear power complex turned to their next task: injecting nitrogen to prevent more hydrogen explosions.

Nuclear officials said there was no immediate threat of explosions like the three that rocked the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant not long after a massive tsunami hit last month, but their plans are a reminder of how much work remains to stabilize the complex, the Associated Press reported.

Workers were struggling to cool down the plant’s reactors, which have been overheating since power was knocked out by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed as many as 25,000 people and destroyed hundreds of miles of coastline March 11.

Tepco said it needed to discharge the contaminated water to free up storage pools for more radioactive water.

“We regret having caused concern to other countries because of the discharge of the radioactive water,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. “We will try to avoid further dumping of contaminated water as much as possible.”