South Korea bans more Japan fishery products from near Fukushima on eve of Olympic decision

SEOUL Thu Sep 5, 2013 11:26pm EDT

A wholesaler arranges shellfish a seafood stall at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A wholesaler arranges shellfish a seafood stall at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul April 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea banned all fishery imports from a swath of Japan around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday, dealing another blow to Tokyo's credibility on the eve of the capital's bid to host the Olympics.

Just hours after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke away early from a global summit in Russia to personally back Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Summer Games, Seoul extended a ban on 50 imports from eight Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, due to concerns about radiation contamination.

"The measures are due to the sharply increased concern in the public about the flow of hundreds of metric tons (1 metric ton = 1.1023 tons) of contaminated water into the ocean at the site of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan," a spokesman for the Prime Minister's office told reporters.

Korea's move, which takes effect on Monday, adds to international pressure on Japan to fix the crisis in Fukushima, 230 km (140 miles) from Tokyo.

China has banned the import of dairy, vegetable and seafood products from at least 5 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, since March 2011.

Fukushima's embattled operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, has been forced to reverse denials and admit that 2 1/2 years after the reactor was wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami, it is leaking hundreds of metric tons of radioactive water a day into the Pacific Ocean and radiation levels have spiked.

Japan has struggled to assure the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Argentina, and the public at large that it can manage the Fukushima crisis.

Tokyo's bid for the Olympics is a high-stakes gamble for Abe and his "Abenomics" program. The right to host the games would likely boost Abe's popularity and could potentially spur his signature pro-growth policies for the world's third-biggest economy.

Abe's government stepped in this week, pledging nearly half a billion dollars to help Tokyo Electric Power Co try to contain the contaminated water.

Tokyo's Olympic bid chief on Wednesday played down fears over Fukushima, saying Tokyo's radiation level is comparable to London, Paris and New York.

Tokyo pushed back against the ban on Monday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the water contamination is affecting only a very small area. Japan wants Korea to decide on Japanese imports based on scientific data.

Korea's extended fishery-import ban will remain in place indefinitely, Vice Fisheries Minister Son Jae-hak told the news briefing, saying information received from Japan was not good enough to properly judge the situation.

Seoul said it would also now tighten its testing on fishery imports from other areas of Japan.

South Korea imported 5,000 metric tons of fishery products from the eight affected prefectures last year, out of a total of 40,000 metric tons of imports from Japan, Son said.

The IOC is to decide on Saturday whether to award the Games to Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul.

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by William Mallard; Editing by John Mair and Michael Perry)

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