The government's decision to release into the ocean treated radioactive water from the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is expected to be a key issue in the next general election.
The decision on Tuesday was made as tanks for containing the water at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. plant in Fukushima Prefecture are expected to reach full capacity next year.
Opposition parties aim to make the water disposal plan a key issue in the election for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, which is set to take place by autumn.
Criticizing the plan, Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said the government is "ignoring the people of Fukushima."
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that "disposal of the treated water is an unavoidable task" in the work to dismantle the plant.
He also expressed readiness to stand at the forefront to make explanations to Fukushima citizens as they struggle with negative rumors.
The government believes the safety issue has been resolved, according to officials close to the prime minister, but opposition by fishermen and local residents continues.
The decision was made less than a week after Hiroshi Kishi, head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, expressed firm opposition to the ocean release in a meeting with Suga on April 7.
With no prospect for eliminating negative rumors, a government source said that the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition is "likely to struggle in Fukushima in the next Lower House election."
Opposition lawmakers are stepping up their criticism.
In the upcoming election, the Fukushima plant's water disposal will be a focal issue," a senior CDP official said. "Damage from rumors will have a large emotional impact."
"It would be unacceptable if the conclusion of ocean release was reached because the time is running out," Jun Azumi, CDP parliamentary affairs chief elected from a district in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture, told party lawmakers.
CDP Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama told reporters, "Nothing concrete has been proposed about measures to tackle harmful rumors."
"I resolutely make a protest against the high-handed decision that ignores the voices of local people. I demand the plan be withdrawn," Kazuo Shii, head of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, said on Twitter.
The LDP officially backs Suga's decision.
"This is not about the election. I support the decision," LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said during a news conference. Separately, General Council Chairman Tsutomu Sato said: "It has nothing to do with the election. The move is right."
Still, with only a half a year left before the terms of the Lower House lawmakers expire, a medium-ranking LDP lawmaker expressed anger, saying: "There will be a direct impact on the Lower House election. It's awful that the decision was made at this time."
Another lawmaker said, "It'll be tough if (the water disposal plan) becomes a key issue."
Meanwhile, Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, said the response to the nuclear disaster, including treatment of radioactive water, started under the government of the now-defunct opposition Democratic Party of Japan, a CDP predecessor.
"I hope those who were in power at that time will be a little more responsible when they make comments" about related issues, Yamaguchi said.
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