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S Korea Witnesses Sea Salt Demand Surge Amid Impending Release of Contaminated Water from Japan's Fukushima

Japan plans to release more than 1 million tonnes of contaminated water, primarily used to cool the reactors at the Fukushima plant, into the sea by this summer.

Shivam Dwivedi
S Korea Witnesses Sea Salt Demand Surge Amid Impending Release of Contaminated Water from Japan's Fukushima (Photo Source: The Asahi Shimbun)
S Korea Witnesses Sea Salt Demand Surge Amid Impending Release of Contaminated Water from Japan's Fukushima (Photo Source: The Asahi Shimbun)

As Japan prepares to release contaminated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean this summer, South Korean shoppers are bulk-buying salt and seafood, while retailers are stockpiling supplies due to fears of a potential shortage. The move has sparked concerns about health hazards and rising prices among the South Korean public.

South Korea's fisheries authorities have pledged to increase monitoring of natural salt farms for any signs of radioactive substances and maintain the ban on seafood from the waters near Fukushima. However, despite these efforts, many individuals are purchasing more than necessary out of worry regarding Japan's impending action.

Park Young-sil, a 67-year-old shopper at a traditional market in Seoul, expressed her concerns that the release of wastewater could result in the pollution of the ocean, health problems, and an increase in salt and seafood prices.

While Seoul and Tokyo have taken steps to mend their strained relations in recent months, Japan's plan to discharge over a million tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima power plant remains a contentious issue for its neighboring country. A survey conducted last month by local pollster Research View revealed that over 85% of the South Korean public opposes Japan's plan, with seven out of ten people stating they would consume less seafood if the wastewater release proceeds.

Hyun Yong-gil, the owner of a wholesale salt store in Seoul, mentioned that there has been a recent surge in sales, amounting to an approximate increase of 40 to 50%. He also noted that prices have gone up. He further stated that they have been observing a higher number of customers than usual, with many of them expressing concerns regarding the scheduled wastewater release.

According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of South Korea, it was stated in a released statement on Tuesday that sea salt prices had increased by almost 27% in the first week of June compared to two months earlier. The ministry attributed this rise in prices more to adverse weather conditions and reduced production in recent months rather than panic buying. The ministry mentioned that producers have been experiencing growing anxiety due to the long rainy season during the spring.

Sea salt emerged as a trending topic on an online shopping website operated by the country's National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives on Friday. Additionally, social media posts advocating the purchase of salt in large quantities have gone viral.

According to a viral tweet in Korean, it was mentioned that they had purchased three years' worth of seaweed and anchovies, along with a large bag of salt. Local branches of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, known as Nonghyup, in Sinan County, a region renowned for its sea salt production, reported an increase in order volumes and inquiries related to salt purchases.

In response to the heightened concerns and public sentiment, shares of salt and seafood manufacturers have rallied in South Korea in recent days. Small and medium-sized enterprise Insanaga, specializing in salt products, witnessed a 28% surge in shares on Wednesday. Canned tuna producer Sajo Seafood also experienced an increase of over 6% in its share prices.

The surge in share prices followed a report earlier this week by Japan's public broadcaster NHK, stating that an underwater tunnel built to discharge irradiated Fukushima wastewater into the ocean had been filled with seawater.

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