Cute cartoon character fails to sell Fukushima water plan

Within just a day, the character called Tritium was scrapped and an apology issued. - SIMONAHAC/TWITTER

TOKYO (Bloomberg): Amid criticism at home and abroad over plans to release treated water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean, Japan’s officials turned to a familiar playbook: use a cute character to explain the safety of the move.

Within just a day, the big-nosed, tadpole-like character called Tritium -- which looks a bit like a Pokemon and is named after the radioactive element that the government plans to dilute and release into the ocean -- was scrapped and an apology issued.

As part of promotional material released after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Japan would begin releasing more than a million cubic meters of water into the ocean in two years, the character was intended to explain to locals that the water isn’t hazardous. But after a wave of criticism on social media and in parliament, the Reconstruction Agency said it would temporarily retire and redesign the character on Wednesday (April 14).

The episode highlights the struggles Tokyo faces in convincing not just its neighbours but also the public that it can safely release the tritium-tainted water into the ocean.

Some 57% of Fukushima prefecture residents oppose the release, according to a poll from February. The move has also been loudly criticised by China, South Korea and Taiwan.

These kinds of comic characters, known as "yuru-chara, ” are used all across Japan as mascots for everything from regional sports teams to the police force.

Tepco, the utility at the centre of the Fukushima disaster, starting using a chubby bunny as its mascot in 2018 to help rehabilitate its image.

Tritium is a form of hydrogen that has two extra neutrons, making it weakly radioactive. It is naturally produced in the upper atmosphere and is also a common byproduct of nuclear power generation.

It is a common and safe practice for the world’s nuclear power plants to discharge small amounts of tritium and other radioactive material into rivers and oceans, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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