Wednesday 17 January 2018

Radioactive water will ruin us, say Japanese fishermen

A home adrift in the sea shortly after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in which more than 10,000 people died
A home adrift in the sea shortly after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in which more than 10,000 people died

Malcolm Foster in Tokyo

FISHERMEN who lost their homes and boats in Japan's tsunami now fear radioactive water gushing into the Pacific from a crippled nuclear plant could destroy their livelihood.

The contaminated water raised concerns about the safety of seafood in the country that gave the world sushi, prompting the government to set limits for the first time on the amount of radiation permitted in fish.

Authorities insisted the radioactive water would dissipate and posed no immediate threat to sea creatures or people who might eat them. Most experts agreed.

Still, Japanese officials adopted the new standards as a precaution. And the mere sugg -estion that seafood from Japan could be at any risk stirred worries throughout the fishing industry.

"Even if the government says the fish is safe, people won't want to buy seafood from Fukushima," says Ichiro Yamagata, a fisherman who lived in the shadow of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. "We probably can't fish there for several years."

Fukushima is not a major fishing region, and no fishing is allowed in the direct vicinity of the plant. But experts estimate the coastal areas hit by the massive wave account for about a fifth of Japan's annual catch.

India announced yesterday that it was halting food imports from Japan out of fear of radiation contamination. Few countries have gone so far, but India's ban reflected the unease created by the nuclear crisis among consumers.

India said the ban would last three months or until the risk subsided. It planned to review the situation weekly.

Mr Yamagata, whose home is within the 20-kilometre evacuation zone around the plant, is staying in a Tokyo soccer stadium with his wife and about 140 other refugees. He fears his fishing days are over. Radioactivity will continue spewing into the air and water until cooling systems are restored.

The new limits on radioactivity in fish were imposed after plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) announced that water tested near the plant last Saturday contained levels of radioactive iodine 7.5 million times the legal limit. That had dropped to 5 million two days later.

Past readings were lower, but they were also taken farther from the plant, so the new readings did not necessarily mean contamination was getting worse.

Japan imports far more fish than it exports, but it sent the world €1.8bn worth of seafood last year.

Some people were undaunted. At Sushizanmai, a sushi bar just outside Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish market, customers were still eating Japan's famed raw fish delicacies last night.

But chef Seiichiro Ogawa said the fuss over radiation could hurt business. His restaurant is trying to get more fish from western Japan, which has not been affected by the crisis.

In a separate development yesterday in what could be an effort to counter the bad publicity, Takashi Fujimoto, TEPCO's vice president, said it was offering 20 million yen (€200,000) to each town affected by a mandatory evacuation zone. He called the cash "apology money" and noted that one town had refused it because it disagreed with the approach.

Irish Independent

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