Toxic tuna? Hong Kong may ban Japan seafood over Fukushima water

Tokyo insists its plans to discharge the treated water from the tsunami-wrecked nuclear plant are safe.

Japanese imports of seafood are seen in a supermarket in Hong Kong
Japanese imports of seafood are seen in a supermarket in Hong Kong [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Japan has requested officials from Hong Kong not to tighten restrictions on food imports amid its plan to discharge treated radioactive water from its Fukushima nuclear plant later this year, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

In a Wednesday meeting with Hong Kong government officials, Japan explained its plans to discharge the treated water from the tsunami-wrecked plant and assured the safety of Japanese food, the ministry said.

More than 1.3 million tonnes of water – enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools – has built up at the plant since the March 2011 tsunami destroyed the power station’s electricity and cooling systems and triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The meeting was held a day after Hong Kong leader John Lee said the city, Japan’s second-largest market for agricultural and fisheries exports, would ban seafood products from a large number of Japanese prefectures if Tokyo goes ahead with its water release plan.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan reiterated Lee’s comments on Wednesday saying the city would ban seafood imports from 10 Japanese prefectures.

Tse told reporters that a ban would include imports of all live, frozen, refrigerated, dried or otherwise preserved aquatic products, sea salt, and unprocessed or processed seaweed.

Protesters at a rally against the Fukushima water release plan in South Korea. They are holding placards written in Korean. The woman in front is wearing a T-shirt reading 'NO' and beneath it 'Boycott Japan'
Protesters stage a rally against the Japanese government’s plan to release treated radioactive water from Fukushima nuclear plant, near the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea [File: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

The ban would apply to imported aquatic products from Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano and Saitama, Tse added.

China has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the plan despite a review by the United Nations atomic agency IAEA of the controversial proposal, which found it safe.

The plan was “consistent with relevant international safety standards … [and] the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said last week.

The state-run tabloid Global Times last Thursday quoted Senlin Liu, a Chinese expert on the agency’s technical working group, saying they were disappointed with the “hasty” report and that the expert input was limited. Grossi rejected those claims on Friday.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has said it respected the IAEA’s conclusions after conducting its own assessment of Japan’s discharge plan.

Within Japan, the government has also faced backlash, especially from fishermen, some of the most vocal critics of the planned discharge.

Many fishing unions fear reputational damage, which they experienced after the 2011 disaster when several countries banned some products they sold.

The government has set up funds to financially support the fishing industry while also hosting several food tourism events and enlisted influencers to promote how safe the food in Fukushima will be, even after the release.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies