Japan has released treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant that so infamously melted down after a 2011 tsunami devastated the region. International experts agree that eating seafood from Japan after the release remains safe, save for that coming from a narrow area near the release site, the New York Times reported.
But people are still afraid and refusing to eat seafood from Japan and beyond. Communications failures are in large part to blame.
The plan was first announced two years ago, which is plenty of time to mount an effective communications strategy. But the New York Times reported that both Japanese and international officials have failed to use that time. As it so often does, misinformation communicated what truth did not.
Why it matters:
The mistrust extends beyond Japan’s borders and across Asia, where longstanding animus between Japan, South Korea and China exacerbate the problem. Korean students were arrested for protesting the decision to release the water at the building that houses the Japanese Embassy. China has banned import of all fish from Japan, not just from the areas nearest the discharge.
And indeed, even seafood caught outside Japanese territorial waters is now languishing in markets across the region, the New York Times reported.
Scientific communications are one of the most complex yet important fields of public relations. We saw during the pandemic how good communications can save lives — and how bad communications or a simple void can cost them. The stakes are less dramatic here, apt to cost livelihoods over lives. But the impact will be no less devastating.
The failure of the Japanese government, seafood industry and international partners to launch an effective campaign that communicated that the seafood was safe and, perhaps more importantly, why it is safe, could have ripple impacts for years.
The New York Times reported a few ongoing efforts: banners in a fish market, a photo op with Japan’s economics minister chowing down on sashimi. It’s still possible to turn things around — but it’s a much harder battle now that the water has been released and conspiracy theorists can point to any marine abnormality or human illness as proof that seafood is tainted.
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