South Korean market tests fish, seafood to dispel Fukushima radiation fears

July 7, 2023 - 2:07 PM
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An official measures radiation levels of scallops imported from Japan as they conduct a radioactivity check, which have been conducted regularly since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, at Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul, South Korea, July 6, 2023. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

 The largest fisheries market in the South Korean capital is stepping up testing to show its offerings are safe, aiming to allay consumer concerns about Japan’s planned release of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

The plan secured approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week, with the U.N. nuclear watchdog saying it met global safety standards and would have “negligible radiological impact” on people and the environment.

RELATED: Explainer: How Japan plans to release Fukushima water into the ocean

But there was just a scattering of visitors in the gleaming six-storey facility in Seoul, where teams of market officials pointed radiation detectors at fresh fish and seafood as they made random tests at 10 stalls, in hopes of reassuring buyers.

It’s much more difficult to make sales now, as customers are asking more questions as they worry a lot,” said Jin Wol-sun, a retail stallholder at the Noryangjin market.

Shoppers say they want guidance and policy steps by the authorities that are backed by science, rather than the sensational claims that have been aired in a debate over Japan’s plans that has gripped the nation.

“This should not be about emotions or feelings,” said a 76-year-old shopper, Mun Chang-yeon. “I wish our people would look into what has been proven by scientific measures. I don’t want fishermen to get hurt by all the rumours.”

Japan’s plan to release more than a million tons of water, much of it used to cool nuclear reactors wrecked in a March 2011 tsunami, also faces fierce resistance from China and some residents of the region.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is set to arrive in South Korea on Friday to explain the agency’s review of the plan, the same day that the government will release its own assessment.

It has said it would respect the findings of the IAEA, as an internationally recognised body.

But the safety debate has turned into a bitter political controversy, as President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative administration walks a fine line in trying to improve ties with Japan while balancing domestic consumer concerns.

South Korea has said it would not lift a ban on imports of seafood and other food items from the Fukushima region. The opposition Democratic Party has pushed to widen the ban to all seafood products from Japan, however.

It has set up a task force to demand a halt to the plan, which it calls a “grave threat” to the ocean environment globally.

Shoppers worry about the water release.

“My husband wanted to have some sashimi, so I came here to buy some,” said one visitor to the market, Jun Myung-ryol, 74. “Also the water is not released yet, so I don’t worry much yet. I might get worried once it actually happens.”

Politicians on both sides of the debate have visited Noryangjin in recent days to make their points, even before Japan has set a timetable for the discharge.

—Reporting by Daewound Kim and Jimin Jung; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez