By Chico Harlan
SEOUL — South Korea on Friday banned imports of fish from a long coastal strip by Japan’s still-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in a sign of widening fears in the region about an environmental disaster that the Japanese are struggling to contain.
A government spokesman in Seoul attributed the decision to “sharply increased” public concern about seafood in Japan — particularly as hundreds of tons of toxic water flow daily from the stricken facility into the ocean. South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries also criticized Japan for its failure to provide clear information about the condition of the plant, site of three March 2011 meltdowns and an increasingly complex clean-up job.
Japan emphasized that its seafood is safe and subject to “stringent” international controls, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. But the South Korean ban deals a blow to Japan’s image ahead of a Saturday vote by the International Olympic Committee on the host of the 2020 Summer Games. Tokyo — located 150 miles south of Fukushima Daiichi — is one of the three finalists, along with Madrid and Istanbul, and Japanese officials have spent recent days assuring committee members that their country is safe.
The South Korean import ban marks a major expansion of existing restrictions, under which 49 species of fish from Fukushima are blocked from the Korean market. A handful of other species from the broader region, mostly bottom-feeders, have also been banned.
Now, all fish from nearly 600 miles of coastline are banned, “regardless of whether they are contaminated or not,” the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry said. The ban includes areas as far south as Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo.