With serious concerns over public health and food safety, the Hong Kong government has implemented measures to limit Japanese food imports since the Japanese government decided to release the treated Fukushima radioactive wastewater in August.
On 11 September, 7,800 tonnes of wastewater was released in the first phase, and the second round was completed on 5 October.
Earlier in August, Hong Kong chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu described what Japan has been doing as an “irresponsible way of pushing one’s problems onto others”.
IS IT SAFE?
In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept over Fukushima Japan, and hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The tsunami damaged the power plant’s cooling system, which led to the reactor core overheating. In order to cool down the reactors’ fuel rods, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been pumping in water, which consequently contaminates the water with radioactive substances.
The Japanese government and TEPCO said the discharge is inevitable because the tanks’ capacity will soon be reached in the coming year. Yet, the wastewater is found containing a radioactive element Tritium, which can increase the risk of cancer if it enters the human body, and there is currently no solution to remove this substance before the water is released to the sea.
Thus, many are doubtful about the safety of wastewater released from the nuclear plant.
Scientists and environmentalists around the globe were highly involved in studying the case of wastewater release, and many of them believed the adverse impacts of the radioactive elements from the wastewater are minimal.
In particular, physicist David Bailey told the BBC that he thought marine animals were unaffected by tritium at the current level.
Responses Across Countries
Although a number of experts and reports show the current level of radioactive elements in the treated released wastewater is not high to an extent that causes harm to human bodies, many surrounding countries have been strongly opposed to the discharge and have taken action on food banning from Japan.
China, the second largest market for Japanese exports, imposed a total ban on the country’s marine products as the discharge of Fukushima radioactive wastewater began on 24 August.
Meanwhile, a series of protests and salt panics have been raised in South Korea since late August because the public feared contamination. The South Korean government then started holding daily briefings and increasing radiation tests in the nearby sea areas to allay people’s concerns about the contamination of seawater.
Likewise, Hong Kong citizens have the same concern.
Jack Wong, a Japan enthusiast, who previously was a Japan restaurant owner, said the second round of wastewater release further reduced his and the other Hong Kong citizens’ confidence in imported food from Japan.
He said, “Many Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong rely on the ingredients that are imported from Japan as they are known for the good quality, I think it will still be in time if the Japanese government can pause their plan now, otherwise in long term, Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong will face a very huge loss.”
Hong Kong is the largest market for Japanese agricultural and marine product exports. There are around a total of 2000 Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong, which takes up about 10 percent of the total number of licensed restaurants in Hong Kong, according to the Standard.
Wong noted that he might not change his eating preference and habit for now but he would keep track of the Food Safety reports from the Hong Kong government.
Martin Chan Keung, the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades director, also an owner of Japanese restaurants, previously said on the radio that there is an estimation that about a third of Japanese restaurants will be shutting down in the next half year, noting that there is already about 40 percent of sector sales drop since the announcement of the discharge plan.
Current approaches from the Hong Kong government
Now that the second round of wastewater release has been completed, the Hong Kong government remains in strong opposition to the Japanese government’s decision on wastewater release.
Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan earlier said in the press conference that the treated wastewater released in Japan may not be completely safe regarding the incidents where fish was found containing radioactive cesium that is 180 times exceeding the safety standard.
Currently, to ensure food safety, Hong Kong forbids the imports and supplies of all aquatic products, sea salt, and seaweeds originating from the 10 cities, in particular Tokyo, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi, Niigata, Nagano and Saitama.
There are also a series of measures implemented for radiation testing.
The Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department started testing seafood taken in Hong Kong waterways for radioactivity on a daily basis, up from a monthly basis. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Observatory also will keep track of the radiation levels in the city waters every month.
Tse stressed, as nuclear sewage has never been discharged into the sea historically, plus the discharge time will be taking 30 years, it is challenging to estimate the impact on the environment at this point.
Featured Image: Charlotte Kwan