这周我在我的播客推荐newsletter The Pod Luck Club里推荐了这期Inside China制作的这期关于日本核废水排放的节目。推荐链接：Ep 1149 Chinas fear and loathing for Fukushima: science versus social media | Inside China
The Pod Luck Club的订阅者碧玉用openAI 开源的语音转文字的AI 模型 Whisper，将这期播客转换成了文字，再用ChatGPT做了中文翻译，并且进行了整理。
China’s fear and loathing for Fukushima: science versus social media | Inside China
You're listening to a podcast from the South China Morning Post. Hello and welcome to the Inside China Podcast. My name is Jared Watt. I'm the specialist digital editor for the South China Morning Post here in Hong Kong. And in this special episode, we're going to plunge into the stormy waters surrounding the release of treated water into the ocean off the coast of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.
大家好，欢迎收听《南华早报》的Inside China Podcast，我是Jared Watt。作为南华早报的专业数字编辑，我在香港工作。在这一特别的节目中，我们将深入探讨在日本福岛核电站沿海向大海释放经过处理的水的争议。
Now just in case you weren't around 12 years ago when this story started, the Fukushima nuclear plant on the east coast of Japan was the scene of this century's worst nuclear plant disaster. It happened when an earthquake triggered a massive tsunami which swept in and destroyed the power supply and cooling systems, causing three nuclear reactors and their fuel to melt and spew out large amounts of radiation. What remains inside those reactors is 880 tonnes of fatally radioactive nuclear fuel cooled down by constant circulation of water. The water used to cool those melting nuclear reactors is collected and treated with some of it recirculated and then the rest stored in tanks.
Now we found this out in October of 2018 when the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, otherwise known as TEPCO, apologised to the Japanese government for previously insisting all radioactive materials had been removed from the site.
Fast forward and here we are now. It's been 12 years of storing water from the dam to reactor core in huge tanks at the Fukushima power plant. An estimated 1,000 huge steel tanks containing 1.3 million tonnes of water, which is the equivalent of about 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In July this year the Japanese government and TEPCO announced the water must be released to make way for the power plant's decommissioning and to prevent any accidental leaks of insufficiently treated water.
Now the process is to take 30 years, essentially trickling out this water slowly from a pipe on the seabed of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Fukushima while testing it every step of the way to ensure it stays within safety limits of radioactivity.
Controversy Surrounding Release of Fukushima Water
Now in July the International Atomic Energy Association, the nuclear watchdog for the United Nations, signed off on that plan after a two-year review. The South Korean government made its own study and announced the water release meets international standards and respected the IAEA assessment. The US Food and Drug Administration removed its last import restrictions on Japanese food in 2021. And last month the EU agreed to remove all its restrictions on Japanese food imports that were imposed after the disaster in 2011, but not here in Hong Kong and not in mainland China.
On Tuesday last week Hong Kong's leader John Lee announced to all who would listen that he was immediately banning all imports of Japanese seafood, even though the pumping of the water was to start Thursday. His bans targeted 10 prefectures in Japan, including Nagano, which is a landlocked prefecture some 330km to the southwest of Fukushima. Then on Thursday came this statement from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ocean is the common property of all humanity. To forcibly start the ocean discharge is an extremely selfish and irresponsible act in disregard of the global public interest. By dumping the water into the ocean, Japan is spreading the risks to the rest of the world and passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity. By doing so, Japan has turned itself into a saboteur of the ecological system and polluter of the global marine environment. By the way, what's great about the website for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the People's Republic of China is its archive of statements and press releases. This is a statement from two weeks ago on the 12th of August.
45 years ago, China and Japan concluded the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan. The treaty codifies the commitment of China and Japan to peace, friendship and cooperation, and establishes the everlasting principles and direction for bilateral interaction that proved to be as relevant as ever. In the past 45 years, China-Japan relations have come a long way, bringing tangible benefits to the two peoples and contributing to the prosperity and stability of the region and beyond. If, as Harold Wilson once said, a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks is an eternity in geopolitics.
What we've been seeing on Chinese social media is an extremely volatile mix of Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment blending with misinformation, fear and, just like we witnessed here in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world in the past three years, pseudo-science, rumor and misinformation making for a heady cocktail that leads to a rational panic buying in supermarkets. This time it's not toilet paper, disinfectant or bags of rice, it's salt. That's right, table salt, not even the fancy stuff. We'll hear about that in a few minutes, but let me catch you up on what's happened since Thursday.
Immediately following the initial release of water on Thursday, the IAEA monitors at the site said their tests showed the discharge had even lower radiation levels than the limits Japan has set, 1,500 becarolls per litre, which is about seven times lower than the global drinking water standard. But that's not the message being heard on state-based media and social media in mainland China. Beyond the scientific reality signed off on by the IAEA with the support of the US, where, incidentally, the ocean currents take water from Japan's east coast, and neighbours like South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, there's been no public comment from Beijing on the IAEA's sign-off.
The economic reality is mainland China is the number one buyer of Japanese seafood, with Hong Kong at number two. But importantly, Japan supplies just 4% of the entire amount of seafood China imports from other countries. Chinese buyers get much more from India, Ecuador and Russia. But what we're seeing and hearing is how the fear, loathing and nuclear panic driven by state-based media is having a huge effect on not just some, but all seafood consumption in mainland China.
My colleague Mandy Zuo in Shanghai reported this comment from a source in China's seafood processing and marketing alliance. It will definitely have an impact on the fishery and aquaculture industry. Some domestic companies will be affected as well. According to what I've heard, many people won't eat seafood, at least in the short term. It's a dangerous sign for the industry if such a mentality were to be widespread. And that sentiment was echoed by a research note from an agricultural information consulting firm West of Shanghai on Thursday. Public willingness to consume aquatic products may be affected. Traffic in seafood markets in coastal cities could drop while sales of such products will slump, along with price cuts.
我的同事Mandy Zuo在上海从中国海产品加工和销售联盟的一位消息人士处得知了这一评论。这(核泄水事件)肯定会对渔业和水产养殖产业产生影响。一些国内公司也会受到影响。据我所听，至少在短期内，很多人不会吃海鲜。如果这种心态普遍存在，这对该行业来说是个危险信号。这一观点也得到了上海一家农业信息咨询公司West of Shanghai上周的一份研究报告的附和。公众对于消费水产品的意愿可能会受到影响。沿海城市的海鲜市场交易量可能会下降，销售量也会下滑，价格也会下降。
We're about to plunge into the scientific reality of releasing radioactive water and then see how that collides and reacts with the politics of propaganda and state-based social media campaigns. Let's go with the flow. Victoria Bella is a new member of our science desk here at the South China Morning Post, born and raised in Shanghai, now living here in Hong Kong. Victoria, great to have you in the studio.
Thank you. It's very nice to be here.
Now, you published a story just last week which raised some specific criticisms of the Fukushima Water Release Plan. You managed to pick up on a very specific criticism leveled by both China and Russia at TEPCO's plan to discharge this water. Victoria, it sounds like they were accusing Japan of taking the cheap option.
Yeah, so they made the charge in a series of letters that was sent over to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. And it was essentially a joint list of technical questions to Japan. The first or the latest one they sent was on July 26th of this year, and they kind of questioned the choice of using water discharge over any of the other four options that they explored. Specifically, they wondered why they didn't choose to do vapor release since that was one of the other methods that the IAEA said would be feasible for this. So they mentioned in their letter that, quote, this has less impact on the ocean in neighboring countries than water discharge would, and it would be less likely to cause any leakages or pollution.
So yeah, last month's letter, they said, specifically they said, quote, Japan also mentioned that facility configuration for discharge into the sea is simple compared to that for a vapor release, which shows that Japan chooses ocean discharge based on economic considerations. And they brought this point up in a few of the letters that the choice had been made to do water discharge specifically because it was the cheaper, more cost effective option. As for water release, it would be about 23 million US dollars. And in comparison, the vapor release would cost about 10 times more at about 230 million US dollars. So the letter kind of mentioned several times that the choice had been made between vapor release and water discharge purely for economic considerations and not necessarily scientific ones. So actually Japan outlined this difference back in 2016. And after that, the IAEA narrowed down the two options of water vapor, water discharge or vapor release as their best, most feasible options based on Pyrocyn scientific study and other plants using these methods.
And it's quite interesting, Victoria, that the science based argument has well and truly been overcome by very specific and very nationalistic type responses. So let me just turn to something else in your story. You spoke with the Vice President of the Nuclear Energy Branch of the China Electricity Development Promotion Association. What was interesting about their response?
Their response was quite interesting because they actually brought up the idea that this had become more of a political than a scientific issue. He kind of mentioned that, you know, from a scientific perspective, there isn't necessarily a reason to question Japan's choice of water discharge. He did bring up that it was still due to cost reasons, but there wasn't necessarily a negative aspect to this because both reasons were scientifically feasible and so they might have chosen the one that was more cost effective. So he kind of specifically mentioned how if they're following global guidelines, if they're following those IAEA guidelines, then the ocean's ability to dilute the water is quite good is what he said. And we shouldn't necessarily worry about discharging into the water because the ocean's natural ability to dilute this waste is quite effective. He did warn that the technology might need a bit more research and it might be a bit early to be releasing this and maybe their own measurements are not necessarily enough to make people feel better about it. And so people might not be trusting Japan's measurements of the treated water and that might be kind of leading to some of the backlash they've been getting. Trust, lack of trust and then fear and distrust are really some of the major things that are happening in this discussion.
You also picked up on something that began trending on social media late last week and has been specifically responded to on many levels of China's state media messaging. And that was Japan's counterclaim that both China and Russia also discharged liquid waste from nuclear sites into the sea and are much higher levels of tritium. Is that true?
Yeah, actually. So the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that I have mentioned many times that less than 22 tera becquerels, which is a measure of radioactivity, which I can explain as well, of tritium would be released from the plant each year. But in comparison, they said that just one of China's nuclear plants, Qingxian, released 143 tera becquerels in liquid form alone in 2020. They also released more in airborne form.
Terabecorrel, Tritium, and the Number of Nuclear Plants in China
So yeah, tera becquerels for those who don't know. I'm instantly out of my depth here and I'm pretty sure our friends listening might well be as well.
I'm so glad I've got a science journalist in here, please, Victoria. What is a tera becquerel?
Sure, yeah. So a tera becquerel is a standard measure of radiation. So one tera becquerel is equal to a trillion becquerels. And for some visualization, a standard banana that you may eat contains about 15 becquerels of radiation. And in terms of what they're measuring here, the tritium. Tritium is a naturally occurring element. It's in the atmosphere and it's been left over from atmospheric weapons testing before in the 1950s and 60s. So tritium is in water. It's kind of in everything. It's in the food that we eat. So if you kind of look at it, it's something that naturally occurs but is also released very often by other nuclear plants around the world. So yeah, and in terms of this point by Japan, there's many other nuclear power plants around the world that are releasing it. There's the Kory nuclear power station in South Korea. They release about 91 tera becquerels each year. In Canada, there's the Darlington nuclear reactor, which discharged 220 tera becquerels of tritium in 2018. And there's also the Lahag reprocessing plant, which discharged more than 11,000 tera becquerels also in 2018. And it's part of a discussion that's kind of opened up where people are asking about the number of nuclear plants that China has along its eastern coast on the South China Sea.
Can you tell us more? So in China, there's 14 plants along the coast starting at the top northeastern end of China, past Beijing. That's the Hongyan Ho plant.
Nuclear Power Plants in China and the Fukushima Concerns
And down the coast to Daia Bay near Hong Kong, there's several other plants towards Hainan Island in the southwest. And last year, China announced that there'd be three more power plants in coastal provinces that would be releasing two new reactors. So there's the Haiyang plant in Shandong province, Sanmen and Zhejiang province, and the Lufan plant in Guangdong province. And that's a whole lot of nuclear power stations and reactors.
But it's quite interesting that since this information has come out, you know, comparing the levels of tritium being released, we've seen this sort of counterclaim campaign from state media messaging all the way at the top of Beijing through the social media warriors. And now by Hong Kong's leader, John Lee, that it's not about the tritium from Fukushima.
That's the problem. It's the other radioactive materials, the radionucliides that are part of this water mixed inside the damaged reactor in Fukushima. Has this been addressed by TEPCO, the Japanese authority in charge of this?
Yeah, so it's been addressed kind of in a more general sense, almost. So they've mentioned their filtering process, which is called ALPS. But essentially, it's a process that's supposed to remove most of the radionuclides. So there's about 64 and it's supposed to release about 62. And it's supposed to bring the levels of radioactivity below Japan's regulatory limits for 2022 for discharge into the environment. And these limits are based on recommendations from the International Commission on Radiological Protection. So, you know, people have been talking about tritium because the process does not remove carbon 14 or tritium. So the treated water does need to be diluted further to less than one part per 100 parts of seawater in order to be released. So the concern has been that the ALPS process has not been entirely effective. A lot of criticisms of TEPCO have been that initial filtration through the system has not been able to remove some of the more concerning radionuclides, and that they've had to do a series of testing that has seen that the levels have been higher than expected. There was one instance pretty recently where one of the hoses that was supposed to be transporting the water leaked. And in the surrounding areas, there was a dike surrounding the treatment kind of towers where they were being held, where they found that there was levels exceeding those that they were supposed to be at in order to be released. So there's been a lot of concerns about how accurate their testing has been, how accurate the filtration process is. And so, you know, some of the other countries have also said, well, it's not just tritium. That's the concern because this water is not just, you know, typical water from a nuclear plant that is released. There's also a lot of other things, these other radioactive elements in there.
And I can almost hear the hesitation in your voice as a science journalist saying, and it's the public discussing things of a radioactive nature. There's 70 years of atomic anxieties sort of fueling where we are in this discussion. So I get the feeling you're going to be really busy over the next days and weeks covering this issue.
Definitely. I'm working on another story about the water release.
So it's definitely a topic that is really interesting to people right now and one that I'm going to be looking at more closely. Fantastic. Victoria Bella, welcome to the microphone. Welcome to Inside China. We will see your stories on scmp.com. Thank you.
Thank you so much.
Mimi Lau was once upon a time the presenter of this podcast. Now she's assistant lecturer in the journalism department at the University of Hong Kong. She's also the managing editor of the Annie Lab Project, the fact-checking newsroom at the University of Hong Kong. She's been very busy. Mimi Lau, welcome back to the Inside China podcast.
Mimi Lau曾经是这个播客的主持人。现在她是香港大学新闻系的助理讲师。她还是香港大学Annie实验室项目的主编，负责事实核查的新闻室。她一直很忙。Mimi Lau，欢迎回到Inside China播客。
Thank you, Jarrah. It's good to be back.
Let's get through this social media whirlwind in Mainland China over the last few days. It's been running red hot and lead up to the official release of wastewater from the Fukushima plant. Can you give us a sense of what's been posted and how hot is it running now?
Yeah, we actually seen a barrage of misinformation spreading, taking over Chinese social media. We're seeing headless dead fish claimed to be found inside Japanese lakes. We've seen photos apparently showing dirty seawater that was claimed to be discharged from the Fukushima plant.
And we're also seeing people using various versions of radiation meters to measure their background radiation levels. And in a sense to portray that kind of narrative that the discharged water is very harmful to the world's population. And then at the same time, we're also seeing a display of nationalistic sentiment where we see young people crying hysterically on TikTok, cursing the Japanese government for allowing the discharge with absolute hatred. And one of the boys actually cut out Japan from the world map displayed in his room. We're also seeing Chinese citizens making prank phone calls to random Japanese landlines with abusive remarks made in Chinese. And of course there's fishermen crying for the life of those being destroyed by this plan. And also Chinese consumers are calling for a boycott of Japanese cosmetic products.
That's really interesting hearing how it's now escalated to consumer bans on Japanese cosmetic products. Mimi, because we've seen for years now that consumer base, that power that China has been flexed in the likes of South Korea on various other countries that have some way run afoul of sentiment for the Chinese netizens. But what we're seeing here is a real fusion of fear, misinformation, environmental kind of concerns, and that sleeping beast known as Chinese online sentiment. I'm going to take a wild guess here Mimi and assume it didn't take too long for Chinese netizens to start discussion of the Second World War and grievances against Japan left over from that period.
Yes, correct. Actually some of the posts attacked Japan at an environmental level. We saw a real surge in cyber nationalism with a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment in the Second World War and labeling the entire Japanese people as evil. And again, Chinese state media seem to play a prominent part in this with CCTV and Xinhua releasing social images and slogans labeling Japanese leadership as evil and inhumane. And the entire nation of Japan as evil and a destroyer. But don't forget it was just over a year ago in July 2022 that we saw a real upsurge in this online nationalist army in the wake of the assassination of Shinzo Abe. So in the past 10 years we have seen a huge increase in social media nationalism in China in general.
Misleading Images and the Narrative Surrounding Fukushima in China
And yes indeed Mimi, our colleagues here at the South China Morning Post have detailed that vehement online sentiment in the wake of Xinhua Bay's assassination. But having spent the better part of the last three years working with you on this podcast reporting on misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic I see there's been some significant items of misinformation that are worthy of some fact checking we'll get to the panic buying of salt in just a second but I'm really interested about this viral image that went out across Weibo which is actually two photos. One of an egg boiling in water and the other what looks like a lump of scrambled egg in boiling water. What was happening there? What was being said?
We saw two images stacked vertically together. Apparently in the first image we saw two hard boiled eggs in boiling water in a pot and then second one we saw some cracked egg in boiling water but what's unusual about these two images is that the first one shows hard boiled eggs it says it's being boiled in treated nuclear wastewater released by normal nuclear plant but the second one that shows a cracked egg in boiling water the water actually came from the Fukushima plant So I ran some initial reverse image search and found at least one of the images actually came all the way back as early as 2013 from a UK news website talking about how long it takes to boil eggs in general. So these images have been reused and it's classic misinformation tactics where all images being reused and labeled with new misleading content and that just went viral on the social media.
And as you say, that's classic misinformation. The kinds of stuff we've seen really come up in the last couple of years repurposing an image with some pseudoscience. I mean, let's think about the claim here. Someone has gone to the ocean seabed, retrieved some of that treated seawater from the pipeline leading out from Fukushima, and then compared it with another sample of water. And I think it's quite interesting. This image came out after an infographic from the Japan Times went around Twitter late last week showing a map with four different nuclear plants in mainland China and how much tritium they've released into the South China Sea compared with the plan for Fukushima. And I feel like there's this sudden pivot to say, well, there's actually this idea of clean treated water from a nuclear plant and unclean from Fukushima, which again ties into a bigger narrative of response from Beijing.
Chinese Consumers and Salt Hoarding
Actually, Jared, apart from the various emotional and pseudo scientific social media posts that we have seen so far, actually not all content was negative. We have seen a number of social media posts either on Zhihu, on Weibo, trying to do a scientific breakdown of radioactive elements such as tritium being released by Chinese nuclear plants and compared that of the Japanese ones. However, these posts are not trending in Chinese social media. Well, one thing that was trending in social media in mainland China and witnessed here in grocery stores in Hong Kong is this thing we witnessed over the last couple of years. And that is people scrambling to panic by certain items as a result of social media misinformation. We're seeing people pushing trolleys filled with bags of salt out of grocery stores in mainland China. What's happening here?
So yes, Jared, apart from salt flying off the shelves in supermarkets and stores, even online stores are reporting a shortage of salt in stock. And we identified this with people's fear of salt shortages based on the misconception that salt came from the ocean. And in mainland China, most of the salt is actually mined inland.
Another is the mistaken belief that salt can be used as a substitute for potassium iodine to cure radiation poisoning. But actually, none of this is correct. And Annie Lab is planning to run an explainer on this topic. And Mimi, I understand that Annie Lab has got some research going back a few years about this role of salt when it comes to pseudo science and panics in mainland China. Can you tell us some more?
另一个错误观念是食盐可以用作钾碘酸盐的替代品来治疗辐射中毒。但实际上，这都是不正确的。Annie Lab 计划制作一段科普视频来解释这个问题。而Mimi，我了解到Annie Lab 几年前，就对中国大陆由伪科学和恐慌那个引发的的储盐现象进行了一些研究。你能告诉我们更多吗？
Actually, this is on the first time we've seen Chinese consumers holding salt. We have seen this phenomenon reoccurring in modern Chinese history. And we can count back to during the SARS outbreak, during the initial Fukushima disaster in 2011, and there was actually a man being arrested for spreading this kind of rumors online that caused a national salt buying spree. And he was detained by the authorities. So what's interesting is that we also find a report released by the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences, a semi-official organization that analyzed salt-holding phenomenon by Chinese consumers. They actually polled more than 3,000 people in Beijing, Hubei, and Gansu province and found in every 100 citizens aged between 15 to 69, they were feared that nine of them were actually equipped with basic concepts such as environmental science, public health, and common sense. So that actually being attributed to the main reason for the widespread misinformation on the internet.
And the thing is, what's interesting to us is that we have seen Chinese government releasing layers and layers of strict rules and regulations and laws on national level and local level to crack down on rumor spreaders on misinformation. And yet it's so interesting to see an old claim and old misinformation continue to resurrect on a Chinese internet.
Mimi, I think it's really interesting you peek up on Beijing's very strict rules, laws concerning misinformation and disinformation on social media. They're quite specific. And it's interesting, as we know at this moment, there's not really been any crackdown around this. And as we're telling you just off the microphone, the only messaging we're seeing from Beijing from state authorities is just telling people to not panic buy salt. Is that right?
Yeah, they are the sole industry association and groups nationwide. They are appealing to the public not to engage in this panic buying of salt and seeing that there's actually plenty of resources and that 90% of salt production is not from sea salt and that the Chinese salt is not being affected by the so-called nuclear pollution. But China's seafood industry is indeed going to have a significant amount of time to either rebuild reputation release, rebuild trust with their consumers. China is the number one purchaser of seafood from Japan. We'll see how this plays out over the next weeks and months. Indeed, 30 years is how long this will go for according to the authorities behind the Fukushima water release.
Mimi Lau, my former colleague from the SEMP, but now with Annie Lab. Thank you very much for your time. We can find you online at annielab.org, A-N-N-I-E-L-A-B. I know that you're on all the socials on the same name, Instagram, the platform formerly known as Twitter, as well as Facebook. Mimi Lau, thank you so much for your time.
Mimi Lau，我的前同事，现在在 Annie Lab 工作。非常感谢你抽出时间。您可以在 annielab.org 上找到她的在线信息，A-N-N-I-E-L-A-B。我知道你在 Instagram、曾经被称为 Twitter 的平台以及 Facebook 上都有同样的名字。非常感谢 Mimi Lau 抽出时间接受采访。
Thank you so much, Sharis. My pleasure.
That's all for this episode of Inside China and a reminder, as always, to keep up to date with the latest developments on our website at scmp.com. You can find out a lot more about China's enormous investment in nuclear power as it tries to hit the zero carbon target for its economy over the next decade. And you can see and read more about the economic impact on what used to be a thriving Japanese restaurant sector here in Hong Kong. Thanks for listening. My name is Jared Butt. Bye for now.
感谢收听本期 Inside China。请务必在我们的网站 scmp.com 上随时了解最新动态。您可以了解更多关于中国在未来十年中将经济实现零碳目标而进行的巨额核电投资，并了解这对香港曾经繁荣的日本餐饮业的经济影响。谢谢收听。我是 Jared Butt。再见。