Sales of seafood have plummeted in South Korea with consumers fearing its contamination following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Crippled by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima plant has had a series of problems in recent months, including radioactive water leaks from storage tanks.
The Noryangjin fish wholesale market in Seoul is one of the largest fish markets in South Korea. But, despite scores of banners promising buyers that the fish is safe, sales are dwindling. Some stalls have even had to close down.
Stall owner, Kim Byung-guk expressed concern for the state of fish sales:
“In general, South Korean people’s distrust in Japanese fishery products is very serious. Because of that, even the sale of safe domestic products is being damaged.”
In an attempt to boost sales and ease customer fear, local store the Henaro Club has set up a radiation level scanning station next to its seafood section. It allows customers to use a portable device to check the fish for radiation before they buy it.
The station is flanked by a large banner stating that the store does not sell Japanese-imported fish products.
South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety says imports from Japan have vastly decreased and they are doing all they can to ensure no contaminated fish enters their markets.
Lee Soo-Doo, Director of the Foreign Inspection Division of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety explained their policy:
“Currently, all fish imports from the eight prefectures neighbouring Fukushima are banned,” he said.
“Fish from regions other than those eight prefectures must have a radioactivity inspection report or certificate of origin attached. Also, we are conducting radioactivity inspections on every import.”
Due to the radiation leaks in Japanese nuclear plants, consumers have been avoiding purchasing domestic fish since last August.
The aftermath of the leaks continues to influence the markets, with the public still not convinced about the safety of Japanese fish.
Consumers say they fear water from the crippled reactors has spread further than Japan. Some also suspect false labelling by distributors.
Lee Song-Hyun, a college student in South Korea, spoke of her worries surrounding the safety of the fish sold:
“It’s true that I feel more reluctant to purchase seafood now, compared to the past. This is because I don’t think the distribution process is very transparent, so I hesitate before buying fish,” she said.
Consumers will be reminded of Fukushima again in the coming days when nuclear fuel rods from reactor four at Dai-ichi are removed for the first time.
Tepco, the owner of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, plans to remove a staggering number of fuel rods that have built up over time.
Over 1300 spent fuel rods are held at reactor four and they are capable of emitting the radiation of about 14,000 Hiroshima bombs if they are not handled with extreme care.
Reactor four was badly damaged by a hydrogen explosion in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.