By Akira Tomoshige
MINAMISOMA, Japan (Reuters) - Koji Suzuki's surf shop, which he first opened in 1989, was washed away by the devastating tsunami that hit northeast Japan in March 2011. But that did not kill his love of the sea.
The 66-year-old reopened Sun Marine Surf in November of the following year in a new location in Minamisoma city, a few kilometres from the coast, and he visits the beaches of Fukushima Prefecture daily to surf.
So he takes personally Japan's decision to release nearly 1.3 million tonnes of treated water into the sea from the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by the same tsunami and the earthquake that unleashed it.
"I definitely do not want to be in a contaminated sea, and I am completely against the government's decision", said Suzuki after riding the waves on Friday morning.
The first release of water from the plant will take place in about two years, giving operator Tokyo Electric Power time to filter it to remove harmful isotopes, build infrastructure and get approval from regulators.
Japan has said the release is necessary to press ahead with the complex decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It also says similarly treated water is released from nuclear plants around the world.
Suzuki said he knows the government insists the treated water will be safe, but he is concerned others may not think so.
"I was hoping that the number (of visitors) will recover to pre-disaster levels, but now it's decided that treated water will be released into the sea. I'm worried that the figure may fall again," he said.
The first of Fukushima's beaches did not reopen to the public until several years after the disaster following a huge decontamination effort, with Kitaizumi beach, 22 km (14 miles) north of the plant, not reopening until July 2019.
Suzuki, who tends to surf at a different beach further away from Fukushima Daiichi, says numbers visiting the area have picked up again. But he is afraid the central government's decision will end up impacting the local marine sports industry, including surfing.
"I don't think anyone wants to surf at contaminated beaches," Suzuki said.
(Reporting by Akira Tomoshige in Minamisoma, Japan, and Rikako Maruyama in Tokyo; Editing By Tom Hogue and John Stonestreet)