In China, the Fukushima dump was met with bans, panic buying, and caution

A view of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after it began releasing treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, as seen from the nearby fishing port of Okido in the town of Nami, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on August 25, 2023. REUTERS/Tom Bateman Obtain licensing rights

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese consumers shied away from seafood stalls and rushed to stock up on salt after Beijing condemned Japan’s release on Thursday of radioactive treated water into the Pacific Ocean from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Over the past few weeks, Chinese state media and government officials have repeatedly criticized the plan, saying that the Japanese government has not proven that the water being discharged will be safe, underscoring its danger to neighboring countries.

Hours after Japan went ahead with the release, China issued a blanket ban on all aquatic products coming from Japan.

At the Jiangyang Seafood Market in Baoshan District, Shanghai, two vendors said that the market management toured the stalls on Thursday afternoon and requested that the Japanese products be removed.

Although Japanese seafood is no longer on sale, some vendors have expressed concerns that customers will reject all seafood, regardless of its origin.

Even if you are not from Japan, we can’t do anything about it,” said a vendor named Wang, who declined to give his first name for privacy reasons.

“We had a lot of people coming here every day,” Chen Yongyao, an employee of a frozen seafood shop in Jiangyang, said before Japan’s measure on Thursday.

Now, he said, “it’s not busy at all, and nobody’s buying.”

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The panic has also affected the demand for salt.

The state-run National Salt Industry Group, the world’s largest salt producer, urged people not to panic buy in a statement issued late Thursday, reassuring consumers that it was ramping up production and that the shortage would be temporary.

Supermarket shelves were emptied of salt, and online sales platforms were sold out in some places, including Beijing and Shanghai, as people scrambled to stock up on salt.

According to data released by Chinese media outlet Jiemian, 6.73 million orders for salt have been placed on e-commerce platform since August 22.

Salt was also a hot commodity in China in 2011 in the aftermath of the initial Fukushima nuclear disaster. Aside from concerns about possible contamination of sea salt, there is also a widespread belief in China that iodized salt can help protect against radiation poisoning.

Shanghai shopper Wang Caiyun, 56, said she knows many people who think salt protects against radiation poisoning, but she was in the supermarket to stock up before the salt ran out.

“I’ve seen all the videos on the internet that show there is no salt in supermarkets,” she said. “I thought I should buy it now in case I need salt for cooking in the near future.”

Japan criticized China for publishing “unfounded allegations” and asserting that the water release is safe, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency also concluded that the impact it could have on people and the environment is “negligible”.

(Reporting by Casey Hall, Shihao Jiang, Albie Chang and Brenda Goh; Reporting by Mohamed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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Casey has reported on consumer culture in China from her base in Shanghai for over a decade, covering what Chinese consumers buy, and the broader social and economic trends that drive these consumption trends. The Australian-born journalist has lived in China since 2007.

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