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Made-In-Fukushima Products Still Shunned
Amid Radiation Fears


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After struggling for months to repair production lines hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, a Saitama Prefecture-based maker of plastic containers threw in the towel.

The damage had been overcome at its plant in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, one of the company's main production centers. But it could not cope with consumer fears that its products, including lunch boxes, were contaminated with radiation spewed from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"It will be difficult to restart the plant until the nuclear accident comes to an end," said a company official.

However, the nuclear crisis will continue for at least a few more months. Radiation fears in Japan and overseas show no signs of abating. And the central government has yet to act on calls from Fukushima Prefecture to establish industrial safety standards that could help prevent "groundless rumors" from devastating the bottom lines of local manufacturers.

"Under the current situation, we find it very difficult to assert that a product is safe if even the slightest trace of radiation is detected," a Fukushima prefectural government official said. "We hope the central government will set clear radiation safety standards (for industrial products) and take steps to make the safety (of Fukushima products) known to audiences both at home and abroad."

The Saitama company decided not to retart the plant because demand has plummeted for its products, especially those used to contain food. The maker has transferred operations to other factories and reassigned more than 100 workers.

Without any safety guidelines for industrial products, local companies are trying to reassure customers by displaying the results of radiation tests on their products.

But their efforts are not paying off.

From March 11, when the nuclear crisis started, to Aug. 24, manufacturers in Fukushima Prefecture lost at least 30 business deals because of radiation fears, the prefectural association of commerce and industry said.

According to the association's reports, some clients threatened to scrap business transactions with Fukushima manufacturers that did not relocate their production facilities further away from the 30- to 50-kilometer radius of the stricken nuclear power plant. Others asked manufacturers to measure radiation levels on the materials they used.

One manufacturer in the prefecture reported that online orders for its products from the Kanto area around Tokyo have dried up.

The reluctance to buy products made in the disaster areas is regarded as a form of "rumor-caused damage," which is eligible for compensation, according to criteria set by a government-appointed panel to settle disputes over compensation for the nuclear accident.

However, the criteria are not legally binding. And the actual decisions on compensation in such cases are left to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, which is already struggling under a mountain of compensation claims.

Since April, Fukushima Prefecture, the Tohoku regional bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the municipal governments of Fukushima, Iwaki and Minami-Soma, where many factories are located, have been offering free radiation measuring services. Products submitted by companies are checked for radiation at six facilities.

So far, the products of about 860 companies have been tested. The companies receive official reports on the measurements that can be shown to their customers.

There has not been a single case in which the radiation level on the surface of a product far exceeded the level at the measurement site, according to the Fukushima prefectural government.

The Food Sanitation Law sets safety standards concerning radiation levels for vegetables and other farm products, seafood and drinking water. The law empowers the government to suspend shipments of such products or impose restrictions on their consumption. But there are no such safety standards for industrial products, and the government cannot ban their shipments.

The European Union in April advised its member countries to carry out radiation checks on industrial products imported from Japan, according to the Cabinet Office.

But there has been no notable movement to establish radiation regulations for industrial products in Japan.

The industry ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said that setting such safety regulations for exports, imports and domestic distribution of all kinds of industrial products would be a herculean task.

"Since industrial products are used in a wide variety of ways--some are used in contact with human skin while others are buried under the ground--it would take a lot of time to set separate standards for each product category," a NISA official said.

Fukushima Prefecture is home to many manufacturers of such products as information and telecommunications equipment, electronic parts and auto parts. The prefecture's shipments of industrial products were worth 4.725 trillion yen ($61.58 billion) in 2009, the largest figure among the six prefectures in the Tohoku region, according to the industry ministry.

Shipments from Fukushima Prefecture in 2010 were expected to grow to around 5.4 trillion yen as local industries were recovering from the global recession triggered by the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008.

However, the disaster struck, and the prefecture's industrial shipment index plunged to 86.1 in June from 100.6 in February.




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