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Fishermen and farmers in Fukushima Prefecture have voiced concern about the risk of further harmful rumors about produce from the area if the government allows Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to release water contaminated with radioactive tritium into the Pacific Ocean.

The government is in the final stages of giving the green light to release the radioactive water accumulating at the plant into the sea.

Nearly 10 years after the triple meltdowns at the nuclear power plant in March 2011, prices for agricultural and fisheries products from the prefecture haven’t fully recovered.

Some producers are still struggling to get retailers to buy their produce. They are concerned that if the government cannot set out detailed measures to tackle the reputational damage, they will need to start all over again from scratch.

“It’s unprecedented, and it’s hard to predict how much and how long it will last,” said deputy trade minister Kiyoshi Ejima, who heads a government task force on nuclear disasters, in an interview, regarding the harmful rumors. “We can’t offer a comprehensive (aid) package at this point of time.”

The government is expected to offer measures of support for the farm and fisheries industries, conduct public information campaigns based on science and compensate for damages as a result of releasing the water into the sea.

But it appears the government has not set out a detailed approach for how it plans to tackle any reputational damage caused by the release.

Since the 2011 disaster, the prefecture’s fisheries cooperative has only been able to conduct experimental fishing on limited days, with restrictions on the areas fished.

It is planning to move to full-scale fishing in April, with all 43 types of fish approved to be shipped.

“What we have been working on will be all for nothing,” said Toshimi Suzuki, 67, who belongs to a cooperative for sea urchin and abalone fishing in the city of Iwaki that is urging the government to decide against releasing the tritium-laced water into the sea. “I want them to listen to the voices of fishermen who are still struggling due to harmful rumors before deciding what measures to take.”

Farmers are also worried.

“If the waters are released when people at home and abroad aren’t adequately informed that it’s safe, based on science, harmful rumors will spread again,” said Yasuaki Kato, 44, a farmer who produces rice and apples.

When Kato worked to promote the safety of Fukushima-made produce in Tokyo, he felt it was extremely difficult to gain the understanding of people from outside Fukushima Prefecture.

“If people don’t understand the safety of the produce and how it has been made, it won’t have a price tag equivalent to what it’s worth,” Kato said.

In northern Fukushima Prefecture, fruit farmers were hit by heavy rain last year, after Typhoon Hagibis swept through the region, and were significantly affected by plant disease this year. Koji Suzuki, 69, who harvests peaches and persimmons in the town of Kunimi, says he was only able to harvest about 40% of his fruit compared to normal years.

He is afraid prices that plummeted after the meltdowns will once again drop.

“I want (the government) to propose measures on what it will do when consumers avoid produce from Fukushima,” Suzuki said.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Oct. 21.

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