Days after Hong Kong banned seafood imports from 10 Japanese prefectures when the Fukushima nuclear plant began discharging treated wastewater, many Hongkongers appear unfazed and some are doubtful about whether the ban was necessary.

But restaurants, try as they might to reassure sceptical customers, have still noticed a drop in business. One manager of a Japanese restaurant said Japan’s filtration system for the wastewater discharged into the ocean was a “relatively safe, feasible, and acceptable practice, though not completely risk-free.”

Japanese food hk supermarket
Hongkongers shop for sushi at a supermarket on August 22, 2023. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Our restaurant mainly uses fish caught in Hokkaido and Fukuoka, so our supply is not affected by the ban, and the menu doesn’t have to be changed,” the manager told HKFP in a text message. “The only issue is customer confidence.”

Business down

Experts say Japan’s release of treated wastewater from the nuclear power plant does not pose health risks. Early last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) granted Tokyo approval to release the treated water stored at the disabled power station. But Beijing and Hong Kong have expressed “strong opposition” to the discharge.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency tested fish near the release pipe last week, with its trade minister saying data would be published every day “in a highly transparent fashion.”

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Tests by Hong Kong authorities found that 1,288 Japanese food samples examined a week after the import ban last Thursday – over half of which were aquatic products, seaweed, and sea salt – were all satisfactory.

The restaurant manager said business improved in the two days before the import ban, but fell thereafter.

“It should be left to our visionary officials to comment on whether the import ban is necessary or reasonable. In the current socioeconomic situation, businesses and ordinary people can only focus on their own survival,” the manager said.

‘Out of proportion’

Another restaurateur told HKFP he trusted the IAEA reports that the filtered wastewater did not pose any health risks. But business at his restaurant had fallen by 20 to 30 per cent since the government’s ban last week, he said.

Inside the discharge tunnel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
Inside the discharge tunnel at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, in Japan, on April 26, 2023. Photo: TEPCO.

He said he found it “strange” that the government had only banned imports from 10 of the 47 prefectures in Japan. “Why would imports from the prefectures right next to the 10 banned ones be unaffected?”

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Asked whether Japan’s dumping of wastewater had been politicised, he said the government was “blowing it out of proportion. It creates worry among the citizens.”

Both operators declined to identify themselves or their restaurants. Operators of five other restaurants approached this week declined to comment, with one citing political concerns.

Last week, pro-Beijing political parties called on the Hong Kong government to widen its import restrictions and ban seafood products from anywhere in Japan.

Federation of Trade Unions protest
The Federation of Trade Unions protesting Japan’s move to release treated nuclear wastewater on August 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The proposal to bring local restrictions in line with China’s blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports was supported by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department also conducted radiological tests on 50 local fish samples, all of which passed the tests. An HKFP reporter approached almost a dozen fishmongers at two markets on Hong Kong Island for comment, but all of them declined to speak.

‘Double standards’

Several Hongkongers who spoke to HKFP said they were not entirely convinced by the IAEA reports but would continue to eat Japanese seafood anyway.

Tang, a secretary in her late 30s who usually ate Japanese seafood once a week, said she believed the water in the South China Sea was not much safer.

“They’re probably dumping [nuclear wastewater] in the Greater Bay Area too,” she said while piling a shopping cart high with sushi at a Japanese supermarket on Tuesday evening. “You would never know.”

Sushi at a Japanese supermarket on August 29, 2023. Photo: James Lee/HKFP.
Sushi at a Japanese supermarket on August 29, 2023. Photo: James Lee/HKFP.

Citing Chinese government data, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported last week that 13 nuclear power plants in China each released more tritiated wastewater into the ocean in 2021 than the amount due to be released from the Fukushima plant in one year.

Local authorities denied double standards, saying the wastewater at Fukushima had come into contact with the melted reactor cores and “could be of very high radiation levels.”


Another shopper, 30-year-old Leung, told HKFP she was “sure” that people who ate Japanese seafood would experience adverse health effects, but she herself would not stop.

Sushi at a Japanese supermarket on August 29, 2023. Photo: James Lee/HKFP.
Sushi at a Japanese supermarket on August 29, 2023. Photo: James Lee/HKFP.

Wong, 26, said he was not worried about eating Japanese seafood imported from outside the 10 banned prefectures, or seafood that one would eat on holiday in Japan.

Asked if he would exercise more caution over the source of Japanese seafood, he said he did not have a specific preference.

Holding a box of sea urchin while he eyed assorted sashimi platters, Wong described the Hong Kong authorities’ move to ban seafood from 10 prefectures as “too strict” and possibly not sufficiently supported by scientific research.

Instead, he thought the onus should be on the consumer to decide whether to buy. “I’ll still be at ease eating Japanese seafood,” he added.

Japanese food in HK.
Japanese food at a Hong Kong supermarket on August 22, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

One person said he would eat less Japanese seafood for the time being “unless there’s evidence stating the the effects of the pollution is minimal.”

“I think we’ve never tried such a large-scale radioactive material sewage operation, so nobody knows what its real effects are,” he told HKFP by text message. “I admit I’m not educated enough to comment on the situation.”

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James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.