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Tainted-seafood fears spread as Japan plant leaks
Citing dilution in the ocean, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has played down the risks of seafood contamination.
But, as with other reports of radiation levels in food and tap water, fear has begun to override science. Several countries, including China, India and South Korea, have ordered special inspections for or outright bans on fish from areas near the plant.
Ren Cheng, a spokesman for Taiwan’s Mitsui Food & Beverage Enterprise Group, which operates several upscale Japanese restaurants in Taipei, said his company has seen a 50 percent drop in revenue since the crisis began.
“We are not importing any food products from Japan. All the Japanese ingredients we are using were all procured before the quake,” he said. “We have put up signs in our restaurants to reassure costumers about the safety of our food.”
Domestic consumption, however, is far more important to Japan, which imports far more seafood than it exports. According to the fisheries agency, the domestic catch typically totals around 5.5 million tons. Less than a million of that gets exported, while another nearly 3 million tons are imported.
In stores near Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market, fresh fish was selling poorly.
Instead, customers “are stockpiling” frozen fish, in the hopes it was caught before radiation began to climb, said Hideo Otsubo, who works at a seafood company near the market.
Tourism to Japan has fallen sharply since the disaster, and sushi chef Akira Ogimoto blamed that dropoff for a 30 percent to 40 percent decline in customers at his restaurant near the market, where the daily tuna auction is a big draw for foreigners.
Add on the radiation fears, and fishermen are worried their livelihoods will be threatened just when they need to rebuild their homes.
“I worry we won’t be able to sell our seaweed. If the radiation ruins our fishing, we are lost,” said Toshiaki Kikuchi, a 63-year-old innkeeper and seaweed farmer in Soma, a city near the troubled plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that it had found radiation in a village outside the evacuation zone at levels that are twice where it would recommend evacuations. Officials emphasized the reading was found in only one spot in Iitate village, about 25 miles from the plant, and there was a wide range of levels registered. The exclusion zone has a radius of 12 miles.
About 10 days ago, radiation in the village’s tap water spiked, though it remained well below a level that would pose an immediate health risk. The nuclear officials did not say when the samples in Iitate were taken but implied they were soil samples at least five days old. It also did not say explicitly what radioactive elements were found.
Exceeding the evacuation limit does not necessarily mean the levels pose a serious health risk, as they are often extremely conservative and set well below where health damage can be expected. The officials themselves declined to say if they were recommending an evacuation.
The crisis has been marked by such confusion, much of it due to Tepco’s bungling response, which has been criticized severely by the government and the press. The first few days after the quake saw fires and explosions, and the company — shares of which have plunged nearly 80 percent — frequently has retracted or corrected information.
There has also been criticism that safeguards were lax at the Fukushima plant. The nuclear agency ordered plant operators nationwide on Wednesday to review their emergency procedures. The agency told utilities they must have on hand mobile backup generators and fire engines, which have been used at Fukushima to cool the reactors.
By John R. Bolton
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