Hong Kong to ban Japanese products in areas that discharge radioactive water

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong would immediately ban the import of aquatic products from Fukushima and other Japanese prefectures if Tokyo discharges treated radioactive sewage into the sea, a senior city official said Wednesday.

Environment and Ecology Secretary Tse Chin-wan said that while wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant would be treated before being discharged into the Pacific Ocean, any errors in the process would significantly affect ecology and food security. The concern stems from Japan’s UN-approved but controversial plan to gradually release treated water.

“Our assessment shows that prefectures near Fukushima have higher risks, so we are now taking a responsible path for our residents,” he told reporters at a press briefing.

The 10 territories affected are Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano and Saitama, he added.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to melt and releasing large amounts of radiation. The reservoirs storing the water used since the accident to cool the reactor cores will reach their capacity in early 2024.

In 2021, the Japanese government announced plans to gradually release treated – but still slightly radioactive – water after it has been diluted to what it says are safe levels. Japanese officials say the water, currently stored in about a thousand tanks at the plant, needs to be drained to prevent accidental leaks in the event of an earthquake and to make room for dismantling the plant.

Last week, the UN nuclear agency endorsed the plan, saying it meets international standards and the environmental and health impact would be negligible.

But the plan has faced strong protests from local fishing communities concerned about safety and reputational damage. Neighboring countries including South Korea, China and Pacific island nations have also raised security concerns.

In Hong Kong, the import of certain products – such as fruits and vegetables – from Fukushima is currently prohibited. Other products such as meat and poultry from there are allowed if accompanied by a radiation certificate.

The import of many food products from four other Japanese prefectures immediately south of Fukushima – Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba – will also need to be accompanied by a deregistration certificate.

For the planned policies announced on Wednesday, Tse said the government would be scientific and review the data. If the situation is safe, the government will consider easing its restrictions, he said.

Last year, major food imports from Japan accounted for about 2% of Hong Kong’s total food supply, according to official data. Although Hong Kong is not very dependent on Japanese food in terms of quantity, many locals love Japanese cuisine and there are many Japanese restaurants in the city.

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