South Korea announced yesterday that it was banning all fish imports from along Japan’s northeastern coast because of what officials called growing public concerns over radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean near the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Fisheries in Fukushima Prefecture are nearly all closed and fish caught in nearby prefectures are sold on the Japanese market only after tests have shown them to be safe for consumption.
However, South Korea’s ban applies to a total of eight prefectures with a combined coastline of more than 700km, regardless of whether the fish pass safety standards or not.
The South Korean government made the move because of insufficient information from Tokyo about what steps would be taken to address the leakage of contaminated water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, according to a statement by the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, acknowledges that tonnes of radioactive water has been seeping into the Pacific from the plant for more than two years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at three reactors at the plant.
Recent leaks from tanks storing radioactive water used to cool the reactors have added to fears that the amount of contaminated water is getting out of hand.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that fish and seafood that go to market are tested for radiation and shown to be safe. Suga also stressed that the contaminated water flowing into the ocean is limited to a small area off the coast of the stricken plant.
“There is an international standard on food, including fish, and we are carrying out stringent safety controls based on those standards. We ask South Korea for a response based on science,” Suga told reporters.
South Korean Vice Fisheries Minister Son Jae-hak said in a briefing that the eight prefectures exported 5,000 tonnes of fishery products to South Korea last year, or about 13 percent of the 40,000 tonnes imported from Japan last year. Fish from the following prefectures are being banned — Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba.
Hisashi Hiroyama, a Japanese Fisheries Agency official, said Japan exports about 9.2 billion (US$92 million) of fish a year to South Korea.
The Japanese government has been carrying out radiation checks on various types of food in the disaster-struck northeastern part of Japan. For Fukushima, the latest food check was carried out on Wednesday.
Japan Fisheries Cooperatives chairman Hiroshi Kishi called on Japanese Energy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to tackle the contamination issue as soon as possible and to release appropriate information to the international community to avoid the further damage to the reputation of Japanese fishery products.