Published: 12:35, July 11, 2023 | Updated: 10:35, July 12, 2023
Lee: HK to expand food ban over Japan’s nuclear wastewater release
By Oasis Hu

This photo taken on March 6, 2023 shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Futabacho, Futabagun of Fukushima prefecture, Japan. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government is set to expand its ban on imported Japanese food if the country goes ahead with its plan to dump nuclear wastewater from Fukushima into the ocean, warned Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu on Tuesday. 

Speaking ahead of the Executive Council meeting, Lee said a significant number of seafood products will be barred from entering Hong Kong, covering more Japanese prefectures, and more checks will be carried out on food imports from Japan.

Lee added that he has tasked Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan to form and lead a multidepartmental team to design an action plan to address the consequences of Japan’s move. Chief Secretary for Administration Chan Kwok-ki will supervise and coordinate.

Currently, the import of vegetables, fruit, and milk products from Fukushima prefecture into Hong Kong is restricted, while vegetables, fruit, milk, milk beverages, and milk powder from the four prefectures near Fukushima prefecture must be accompanied by a radiation and exporter’s certificate issued by Japanese authorities before they can be imported into Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong will definitely go beyond that (if the wastewater is released),” the chief executive said.

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The nuclear wastewater is a legacy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. Since the accident, Japan has been using water to cool the nuclear reactor’s fuel rods and store the wastewater in tanks. With many of the tanks now full, Japan plans to release this water into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years, insisting that it is safe to do so.

Given the severity of the nuclear plant disaster, Lee said he is taking this matter very seriously.

He said that he is concerned about food safety and public health and is willing to err on the side of caution, as pouring such a large volume of contaminated water into the sea over a 30-year period is unprecedented, and the risks are unknown.

He emphasized that no expert can guarantee that there will be no harm to residents who consume contaminated products. In particular, the risk of consuming radioactive food may only become apparent several years later when a person’s health is seriously affected, he said.

This issue must be taken seriously because it affects not only the current population but also future generations, Lee said.

Acknowledging the ban’s impact on the local catering industry, Lee said he believes practitioners will understand that the government has had no choice but to act on this unprecedented issue.

Representatives from various sectors and residents in Hong Kong have strongly condemned Japan’s decision and have expressed their support for the government’s plan. 

Cheung Siu-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium, said that the ocean is not an enclosed space and the fishing industry would be affected if nuclear contamination is detected in seafood. 

Chow Shui-kan, executive vice-president of Hong Kong and Kowloon Fishermen Association Ltd, expressed concern that Japan’s discharge could cause a drastic decline in fish prices in the future. 

Chow, who currently makes a living fishing in the South China Sea, said he worries that he will be jobless as a result of Japan’s move. Fish contaminated by nuclear wastewater could affect the entire food chain, Chow said. 

Jeffrey Hung Oi-shing, CEO of Friends of the Earth (HK), condemned the Japanese government for ignoring international opposition, saying the discharge of nuclear wastewater must be regulated by treaties.

A resident surnamed Chan supports the SAR government’s proposal and believes the measure will give residents more confidence in Hong Kong’s food safety. 

Chan said that she would still consider buying Japanese food in the future if it could be guaranteed to be safe through multiple inspections. 

Ashley Shao, a university administrator, said the government’s restrictions will help alleviate residents’ fears and concerns. 

Shao said she believes imports from the Chinese mainland and other regions will be sufficient to meet Hong Kong people’s demands, thereby reducing the city’s reliance on Japanese products and ensuring that the daily dietary requirements of residents would not be significantly affected by further government restrictions.

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A financial practitioner in Hong Kong surnamed Lee said he hopes that the SAR government will increase testing efforts on potentially contaminated radioactive water in the future. 

The Pacific Ocean coast is home to many people, Lee said, calling on more country leaders to condemn Japan’s decision to dump the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

Michael Wong contributed to the story.