Fukushima under debate: Hong Kong and China ban Japanese seafood products

    Treated effluent discharged into the sea is of concern for nearby species and the oceans.

    Just this Tuesday, Hong Kong (China) announced that if the Japanese government enforced the release of water from the Fukushima power plant the next day, it would ban imports of Japanese seafood products from 10 prefectures. Today, Friday, it can already be stated that Japan has started treating radioactive water from the destroyed nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean and that China and Hong Kong have banned the import of Japanese products.

    A couple of years ago, the Japanese government approved a plan to release water from the nuclear power plant through pretreatment. However, to be effective, it also needed the approval of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which gave it the green light last month. Since then, controversy has been brewing over the waters surrounding the 2011 accident.

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    “Very concerned about the risk”

    China and Hong Kong have thus reportedly imposed an indefinite ban on imports of Japanese seafood products from several prefectures.

    China, for its part, expressed that it is “very concerned about the risk of radioactive contamination caused by … food and agricultural products from Japan”, said the customs office in a statement published by Reuters.

    The South China Morning Post reported Hong Kong’s Secretary for the Environment and Ecology, Tse Chin-wan, as saying that “the ‘precautionary measures’ were necessary to ensure food safety, as Tokyo had failed to ‘give a good answer’ on how it would eliminate the risks posed by the dumping plan.” Japan insisted on IAEA endorsement despite unfavorable reactions maintaining their stance.

    Both emphasized that they were selecting the “more responsible” option and simultaneously made an international call on countries regarding the potential harm the spill could inflict on the region’s ecosystem.

    Figures on discharge that cannot go unnoticed by critics

    Tokyo plans to release over 30 years approximately 1.32 million metric tons of radioactive treated water, equivalent to the capacity of 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This has raised concerns about possible long-term effects on the food safety and ecosystem.

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    Tse doubted Japan’s assertion of effective radionuclide removal through their purification system from decaying wastewater. He noted, “We have expressed concern about how [Japan] will ensure the integrity of the system over three decades and how it will manage any incidents to ensure our safety,” reported The South China Morning Post.

    Kenichi Okada, Japanese Consul General, stressed that Japan had thoroughly reviewed the discharge plan for six years. Additionally, he pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency had determined, following a two-year examination, that the release would have an insignificant impact on people and the environment.

    Asian market a loss of millions for Japan

    The ban will apply to the prefectures of Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano, and Saitama, and will cover all fresh, frozen, chilled, dried or processed seafood, as well as sea salt and seaweed. A host of areas and products put Japanese exports to its neighbors in check.

    China and Hong Kong are Japan’s two largest fish export markets. To provide a perspective in 2022, Hong Kong independently imported Japanese seafood products valued at approximately YUAN 75.5 billion (EUR 496 million /USD 536 million), as indicated by government statistics. This accounted for over 20% of the total imports.

    Western countries seem to have a different perspective

    However, not all countries are against it. Since 2011, some countries have been lifting or reducing their restrictions. Among them are the United States and the European Union.

    Currently, the duration of these bans remains uncertain. However, authorities have stated that they will conduct various studies on Japanese products and assess radiation levels along the Chinese coast.

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