South Korea widens ban on Fukushima fish imports

South Korea's prime minister Jung Hong-won visits a fish market in Seoul yesterday. Picture: AP
South Korea's prime minister Jung Hong-won visits a fish market in Seoul yesterday. Picture: AP
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SOUTH Korea yesterday extended a ban on Japanese fishery imports to a larger area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant due to growing concerns over radiation contamination.

Further fuelling those concerns, the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said it was “very concerned” radioactive water could flow towards a bypass it is digging to divert clean ­groundwater around the damaged reactors and into the sea.

The bypass is a key element of the company’s attempts to contain an escalating problem of irradiated water at the nuclear facility that was knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The South Korean move – widening its ban to cover imports from eight Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima – came as Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe broke away early from the G20 Summit in Russia to pitch Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

He made assurances the Japanese capital would be safe for all those coming to the Games. A decision by the International ­Olympic Committee is due today.

As South Korea’s prime minister Jung Hong-won visited Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in the capital Seoul yesterday, a spokesman for his office said the measures were due to “the sharply increased concern among the public about the flow of hundreds of tonnes of contaminated water into the ocean” at Fukushima.

The indefinite ban, which begins on Monday and ­affects some of Japan’s biggest fishing areas, adds to international pressure to fix the crisis at the Fukushima plant, 140 miles north of Tokyo.

China has banned imports of dairy, vegetable and seafood products from at least five Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, since the disaster.

South Korean vice fisheries minister Son Jae-hak said information from Japan was not good enough to properly judge the situation, and Seoul will also tighten testing on fisheries imports from other parts of Japan.

South Korea imported 5,000 tonnes of fishery products from the eight affected prefectures last year, out of a total of 40,000 tonnes of imports from Japan, Mr Son said.

Tepco admitted in July, after months of denials, that contaminated groundwater was leaking into the sea.

A Japanese government spokesman, insisted the country’s fisheries exports are safe for consumption.

Toxic water is confined to a small bay near the Fukushima plant and, even there, he said, radiation readings are well within permitted levels.

He added: “We would like South Korea to take steps based on ­scientific evidence.”