The beginning of the ocean discharge started at around 1:00 p.m. local time (0400 GMT) when a staff member of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) turned on a seawater pump, as showen in a live video by the company.
The controversial decision by the Japanese government has met concerns and opposition among the local population, fisher groups, as well as in neighboring countries and Pacific island countries. On Thursday, hundreds of Japanese from all across the country gathered in front of the TEPCO headquarters in central Tokyo demanding the ocean release to stop.
"No to the dumping of Fukushima nuclear contaminated water into the sea" and "Stop polluting the sea with radioactive water," chanted the protesters during the rally, which was also attended by Taeko Fujimura of the Japan National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, also known as Zen-Noh.
Japan has begun dumping radioactive contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean - Asahi pic.twitter.com/qNGLRfDmPg
"We, as the agricultural cooperative, cannot allow such destructive actions by TEPCO. Even if we have been deceived for the time being, we must stop the ocean discharge as soon as possible," said the official warning about the significant environmental damage that will bring the ocean discharge, which is to continue for at least 30 years.
Fujimura added that in Zen-Noh's previous talks with TEPCO, it clearly stated that apart from tritium, there are various other radioactive substances that will remain in the tainted water in large amounts even after the second round of ALPS treatment.
Hit by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and an ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011, the Fukushima plant suffered core meltdowns that released radiation, resulting in a level-7 nuclear accident, the highest on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
The plant has been generating a massive amount of water tainted with radioactive substances from cooling down the nuclear fuel in the reactor buildings, which are now being stored in about 1,000 storage tanks.
Fukushima's fisheries, tourism and economy, still recovering from the disaster, worry the release could be the beginning of a new hardship. The region's current fish catch is only about one-fifth of its pre-disaster level.
TEPCO said it plans to carry out the first round of release over the next 17 days to discharge 7,800 tons of the radioactive wastewater. In the current fiscal year through next March, a total of 31,200 tons are slated for discharge, equivalent to the storage capacity of 30 tanks, according to the plant's operator.
Chinese customs authorities banned the import of seafood from Japan. The ban began immediately and will affect all imports of "aquatic products," including seafood. The authorities said they will "dynamically adjust relevant regulatory measures as appropriate to prevent the risks of discharge of water contaminated with nuclear material to our country's health and food safety."
#Japan begins releasing more than 1 million metric tons of radioactive wastewater into ocean. First reaction came from #China with ban of seafood import from #Japan. There will be more such reaction worldwide and it will certainly harm #Japan's economy. Was it all worthy? pic.twitter.com/KwoB5ancC0
Groups in South Korea have also raised concerns: Sixteen South Korean university students were arrested by police Thursday for attempting to enter the Japanese embassy in Seoul in protest of Japan's dumping into the ocean. The students were detained in four police stations on charges of trespassing and the assembly and demonstration act violation.
Hundreds of South Koreans rallied in central Seoul late on Tuesday to protest against Japan's plan to start dumping #Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/RyhDDtFimC
The International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement this Thursday that the agency would launch a webpage to provide live data about the discharge. "IAEA experts are there on the ground to serve as the eyes of the international community and ensure that the discharge is being carried out as planned consistent with IAEA safety standards," Grossi said.