Plant reopening as Japanese royals visit Miyagi, Fukushima

Published on
March 11, 2016

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit Fukushima Prefecture and neighboring Miyagi Prefecture on 16 to 18 March, following the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

In Fukushima, they will talk with disasters victims. Fukushima lags other prefectures in rebuilding, as radioactivity fears have damped demand for its food products, particularly seafood.

A government report released last fall, The Impact on Fisheries Caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake—Situation of Recovery and Reconstruction of Fisheries, said Miyagi Prefecture landings approached 249,000 metric tons, 80 percent of pre-disaster levels. But Fukushima Prefecture landed only 52,000 MT—a 48 percent recovery rate—due to continued fishing restrictions and poor consumer acceptance. By value, Fukushima only reached 32 percent of the pre-quake level, compared with 86 percent for Miyagi.

A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-sponsored study, reported 6 March, indicates continued low-level water releases at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, though the Massachusetts-based organization says that the current radiation levels are about 40 times lower than the U.S. standard for drinking water. They are more concerned about future leaks of contaminated water stored in tanks at the site.

Japanese data regarding radiation shows the percentage of samples from Fukushima waters (excluding a 2-km exclusion zone) exceeding the government-set limit of 100 Becquerels (Bq) per kilogram has declined from 57.7 percent in the period April-June 2011 to zero in April-June of 2015. Levels have been lowest among oysters, squid and octopus, and highest among bottom-feeding fish, such as sand-lance, cod and flounder. Japan has set a low radiation limit of just 100 Bq per kilogram, while the U.S. level is 1,200.

In Miyagi, the royals will visit a rebuilt seafood processing plant in Onagawa, a town which, in addition to its port infrastructure, lost 8.7 percent of its population to the ocean—602 confirmed dead, 268 missing.

Farmed scallops are the main marine product here, followed by silver salmon and oysters. Saury is the main wild-caught fish. While the number of fishermen has fallen, sales have recovered to pre-quake levels, helped by a high-tech 2-billion-yen (USD 17.5 million, EUR 15.8 million) seafood processing plant, Maskar, which is shared by several companies. It was completed in autumn 2012 with support from the Qatar Friendship Fund, but its 6,000-MT cold storage capacity far short of the town’s previous 53,000 MT. The newly rebuilt plant to be visited will help make up the difference. Fortunately, the prefecture is close enough to the Tokyo market to make fresh delivery feasible.

Now, two different problems are troubling the industry. The ratio of job offers to job seekers along the coast, at two to one, far exceeds the nationwide average. Jobs in construction, where demand is strong for rebuilding work, are attracting labor that might otherwise be available for fish processing. Labor shortages have kept some plants working below capacity.

Additionally, the central government has declared the intensive phase of rebuilding Tohoku over. The 2016-21 budget cuts reconstruction funds from 26.3 trillion to 6 trillion yen, meaning that the prefectures, cities, cooperatives and business will have to self-fund much of the remaining work. That has led locals to feel they have fallen off the public radar as the government redirects funds to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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