Bringing a whole new meaning to the term mushroom cloud.
UK-Japan relations continue to go “from strength to strength” in the words of Johnson, fresh off the back of removing the UK’s restrictions on food imports from Japan’s Fukushima and neighbouring prefectures.
This comes 11 years after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, when the Fukushima nuclear power plant was rocked by the most powerful earthquake (and resulting tsunami) thart Japan had every experienced.
The disaster led to the evacuation of 154,000 local residents, 1 confirmed cancer-related death, and 18 other workers with injuries. The evacuation efforts were massively successful and – somewhat unsurprisingly – the Japanese government’s efforts were far more effective in savings lives than those of the USSR in the Chernobyl disaster decades earlier.
There were concerns at the time that radioactive materials would leak into the Pacific Ocean, perhaps endangering much of the wildlife/food chain that exists there. And, sure enough, radioactive tuna were found as far away as the United States, though the levels of radioactivity were less than a single banana.
For a long time – alongside its Eurasian and American counterparts – the UK limited imports of produce grown in the regions directly affected by the disaster, due to concerns over the safety of said produce.
But now, the UK’s Food Standards Agency has dropped its previous safety limit of 100 becquerels (a measure of radiacivity) per kilogram contained in Japanese imports. In a quote given last year, the body said:
“Our risk assessment shows that removing the 100 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) maximum level of radiocaesium for food imported from Japan to the UK would result in a negligible increase in dose and any associated risk to UK consumers,”
And – on the Japanese side – every effort is being made to ensure the highest levels of food scrutiny. The food testing facilities present in the Fukushima region being amongst the most stringent in the world.
Neither the stringency of Japanese food testing nor the reassuring statements of the FSA have done much to quell public distaste for the produce, however.
British supermarkets, such as Tesco and Waitrose, have already said they don’t plan on selling Fukushima produce in the near future – most likely due to the negative public opinion surrounding the practice, though the supermarkets are yet to give a reason.
In fact, the only stores likely to start importing the goods are specialist Japanese supermarkets and Japanese restaurants – though, as a frequent consumer of Japanese cuisine, the latter will likely end up with me consuming some of the products in question.
From a cynical standpoint, this move might appear as the UK clutching at any semblance of a trade deal since its departure from the EU and the resulting drop in both imports and exports.
However – looking at it from another angle – the government is acting on the sound scientific advice of both its own agency, as well as Japan’s. The issue here seems to be more emotional than practical – much like the issues surrounding nuclear power in general.
So next time you’re eating mushrooms and you notice one with three stems – remember, just because it’s from Fukushima doesn’t mean it’s dangerous!
Britain restricted Fukushima imports after the disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, but has gradually lifted them, even as other countries limit or ban produce from the region.