“If South Korea or China announced the same thing, I’m sure that the Japanese government and the vast majority of the Japanese people would also object,” she said.

Governments in the region most likely feel domestic pressure to take a strong stance, said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international relations at Kongju National University in Gongju, South Korea, who specializes in Japan and South Korea.

Whether their worries are rational or not, many people in the region “are going to be very, very anxious about what would happen if this radioactive material came into our near seas and contaminated our resources,” she said.

Even under the best of circumstances, Japan would find it “really difficult to persuade its neighbors to accept this kind of decision, because obviously, it’s not our fault. It’s Japan’s fault, so why do we have to experience this kind of difficulty?” she added.

Regional tensions have made surrounding countries even less receptive to the plan. In recent years, territorial disputes and disagreements over trade and historical issues related to World War II have strained Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, with spillover effects on government dialogues across a broad range of issues.

China warned Japan on Tuesday against taking any decision without further consultation with the international community, saying that it “reserved the right to take further action.”

In its statement, South Korea accused Japan of taking “unilateral action” without seeking consultation and understanding with South Korea, which “lies closest to Japan.”

Some in Japan believe that such complaints should be met with more than scientific arguments. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that the criticism smacked of hypocrisy.

South Korea itself operates four heavy-water reactors that routinely discharge water containing tritium at higher levels than those planned in Fukushima, he said in a recent interview.

“When South Korea makes claims like this, we shouldn’t be quiet, we need to properly refute them,” he said.

But the challenge Japan faces is not just on the global stage. At home, many are reluctant to trust the government or Tepco, the nuclear plant’s operator.

A parliamentary commission found that the meltdowns had been the result of a lack of oversight and of collusion between the government, the plant’s owner and regulators. And Tepco was forced to retract assertions that it had treated most of the wastewater. In fact, it had completely processed only about one-fifth, a problem that arose from a failure to change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough.

Ultimately, Japan is in a battle to alter perceptions, whether of the trustworthiness of its own government or of the risk posed by the treated water, said Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues.

In Fukushima, the government’s response to local concerns has often come across as highhanded, he said. Changing that view will require the authorities to improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships, he said.

“From my perspective,” he added, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul. Albee Zhang contributed research from Shanghai.

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Pink Dolphins in Hong Kong Find Respite Thanks to the Coronavirus

HONG KONG — The most popular reward for hiking to the top of Fu Shan, a hill near Hong Kong’s westernmost point, is a selfie backed by the setting sun, the gleaming new bridge across the Pearl River or a flight landing at the nearby airport.

But for those who look more closely, there is the chance of a rarer prize: a glimpse of Chinese white dolphins swimming among fishing boats and cargo ships in the milky jade water.

“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.

On the water below, a half-dozen tourist boats from the nearby fishing village of Tai O surrounded a single white dolphin. People cheered as it breached.

a report by 15 conservation groups and regional universities, as pollution, marine traffic and large-scale land reclamation projects have made the environment increasingly hostile.

coronavirus pandemic, however, has spurred some hope that the dolphins could find respite. Regional travel restrictions led to the suspension of high-speed ferries that crossed the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macau, a few times each hour, curbing one key threat to the animals.

“All vessel traffic is an issue, but high-speed ferries are a particular issue,” said Laurence McCook, head of oceans conservation for the WWF-Hong Kong. “They move so fast there’s a risk of vessel strike, but they also just physically disturb the dolphins because the dolphins run away from them.”

With the ferry suspension, dolphins are getting a little peace in one of their most favored areas in the region.

“What we have documented fairly clearly is that dolphins are moving back out into the ferry zone,” Mr. McCook said. “That actually is their most prime habitat under current circumstances.”

Still, the increased visibility of the white dolphins in places like the waters off Fu Shan is most likely the result of them being freer to use parts of their preferred territory rather than a sign that their numbers are rebounding, researchers say.

established a marine park to compensate for the loss of habitat, but dolphins have been slow to return, most likely because work continues in the area on a new runway.

“Every time we have a project like the bridge,” Mr. Ho said, “they set up a marine park as some kind of compensation. But we think it’s too late.”

On one recent survey trip, the first dolphin the team identified was number WL79, which Mr. Ho quickly identified by the V-shaped notch near its tail, the result of getting tangled in a fishing line or net.

“If we identify individuals, we can follow their life history — where they like to hang around, whether they have calves,” he said. “This is important, because one of the worries is reproductive rate of dolphins is quite low. To keep the population healthy, we want to see calves. But that’s not happening in Hong Kong.”

Newborn dolphins are gray in color and gradually lighten as they get older, their darker parts becoming distinct spots. Some become completely unspotted. They stay with their mothers for three to four years, but sometimes as long as eight or nine years, and typically live into their 30s.

Soon after the team spots another adult, WL168, identified by a large scar on its back. This one has also been seen near Macau, another Chinese territory 15 miles to the southwest, an indication of how local populations are not bound by political boundaries.

The dolphins eat a variety of fish, including gray mullet and lion head fish, the same sort of food, notes Mr. Ho, that appears in markets around Hong Kong. The overfishing of such species adds to the threats to dolphins, as does pollution from various sources including agricultural and industrial waste, urban runoff, discharge from ships and marine plastics.

Researchers also worry that dolphin viewing boats further stress the mammals, particularly those that race out from Tai O for a 20-minute, $25 trip.

Conservations groups say they hope the benefits of the ferry suspension will encourage regional governments and ferry companies to reconsider routes across the Pearl River. By traveling somewhat farther south, they could bypass key areas of dolphin habitat along Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island. Such a move would only add a few minutes to the trip, they say.

It would, of course, ease just one of the many threats the dolphins are facing.

“Rerouting the ferries is not a magic cure-all,” Mr. McCook said. “But we think that can help us catalyze other actions and demonstrate it’s not a fait accompli that we lose the dolphins.”

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