LCQ1: Plan of Japanese Government to discharge nuclear wastewater into sea

     Following is a question by the Hon Nixie Lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (February 22):
     It has been reported that the Japanese Government plans to start discharging treated nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea from spring to summer this year. Since the nuclear wastewater contains various radioactive substances, many local organisations, fishery operators and members of the public are worried that the marine ecosystem, the food chain as well as food safety will be seriously affected. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of samples of food products from Fukushima Prefecture of Japan and its neighbouring areas on which the Centre for Food Safety conducted tests since January 2022, and the percentage of such number in the number of samples of all food products from Japan that were tested; whether the authorities have, in the light of the latest situation, expanded the scale of testing and increased the required equipment and facilities;
(2) whether it will, in the light of the latest situation, tighten the import control on food products from Fukushima Prefecture and its neighbouring areas, and impose a blanket import ban on all food items from these areas when necessary, in order to safeguard public health; and
(3) whether it will conduct an inter-departmental study to assess the impact of the aforesaid act of discharging nuclear wastewater into the sea on various industries of Hong Kong (including the fisheries and catering industries) and the extent of such impact, and take specific actions and mitigation measures in the light of the latest situation; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     In April 2021, the Government of Japan announced a plan to discharge the wastewater generated in the cooling process of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) into the ocean after treatment in about two years' time (i.e. in the year 2023). The plan has aroused concern from the international community and the public. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has relayed repeatedly and clearly to the Japanese authorities that they should not discharge the wastewater from the FDNPP into the ocean unilaterally without the consensus of the international community so as to avoid bringing about irreversible damage to the environment.
     My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(1) From January 2022 to January 2023, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department collected about 11 700 samples of imported Japanese food products for radiation testing, of which about 6 600 samples (around 56 per cent) were from Fukushima and its four neighbouring prefectures (namely, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Gunma). As revealed by the test results, all food samples complied with the relevant safety standards.
     In response to Japan's wastewater discharge plan, the CFS intends to increase the testing volume of imported Japanese food products, and conduct targeted testing on specific radioactive substances on a risk-based approach. In particular, the proportion of aquatic products to be tested will be increased. The Government Laboratory (GL) and the relevant government departments have made preparations for enhanced testing, including developing testing methods for different radionuclides and procuring necessary equipment, in order to strengthen the relevant testing capability and provide requisite testing services in a timely manner.
(2) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has set up a task force to follow up on the safety issues of the plan to discharge the wastewater after treatment. Members of the task force include experts from the Mainland China, Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, the Marshall Islands, Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam. The IAEA has indicated that a final report would be issued after the task force has completed all the work, to conclude whether the discharge plan meet the relevant safety standards of the IAEA. The Japanese authorities have also stated that the wastewater discharge would not commence before the publication of the final report by the IAEA.
     Depending on the conclusion of the IAEA's final report, the relevant information provided by the Japanese authorities, and risk assessments, etc., the Government would not rule out the possibility of implementing further risk management measures to tighten import control on aquatic products from the related prefectures, such as requiring aquatic products therefrom to be accompanied with radiation certificates certifying that the radiation levels of the food concerned do not exceed the guideline levels of the Codex Alimentarius Commission; or else their import into Hong Kong would be prohibited.
(3) The Environment and Ecology Bureau has set up an interdepartmental task force with the relevant government departments including the CFS, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO), the Department of Health and the GL to closely follow up on Japan's plan to discharge the nuclear wastewater after treatment. The task force will also step up local monitoring and maintain close liaison with the relevant local industries to provide professional advice and appropriate support.
     Regarding the impact of the wastewater discharge on the fisheries industry, the HKO has been monitoring the environmental radiation levels in Hong Kong, including measuring sea water samples collected in local waters and announcing the results to the public. In response to Japan's wastewater discharge plan, the HKO will enhance its radiation monitoring in local waters. Besides, the AFCD will step up monitoring of radioactivity in fishery products, including collecting samples from fishery products sold through the Fish Marketing Organization for radiological testing. The AFCD has been conducting regular sampling tests on cultured fish collected at fish culture zones in local waters to keep in view the radiation levels of local catches and announce the testing results on the department's website for public viewing. Furthermore, the HKO will directly notify the AFCD once abnormal results have been detected in the radiation monitoring of sea water samples collected in local waters. The AFCD will relay the results to local fishermen and provide professional advice and support depending on the circumstances. It will also meet with representatives of local fishermen's groups to explain to the industry on the relevant information.
     As for the catering industry, we have maintained close liaison with the relevant local trades (including importers of Japanese food products and catering operators) to enable their better grasp of the latest position of the nuclear wastewater discharge plan for early preparations. The industry and the trades agree that it is of utmost importance to build public confidence in the safety of Japanese food products. The CFS and the AFCD will therefore step up testing and regularly release testing results as well as information on the safety of Japanese food to citizens and the trade.
     The IAEA's review of the discharge plan of the nuclear wastewater after treatment is still in progress. The Government will continue to keep in view progress of the review and maintain liaison with the relevant industries.

Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 11:15