(LEAD) DP to toughen seafood import ban, draw up support measures for fishermen after Fukushima water release

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) on Thursday proposed a law aimed at banning imports of seafood exposed to radioactive water as Japan began releasing contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The bill is one of four measures that the DP has decided to pursue to ensure the safety of seafood and support fishermen and others affected by the Fukushima water release as local seafood consumption is expected to drop further in the wake of the water discharge.

The DP made the decision at a general meeting of its lawmakers, and after the meeting, Rep. Lee So-young, a party spokesperson, said the proposed import ban on "seafood exposed to contaminated water" could include all fishery products from Japan.

"There is a possibility of the ban covering all fishery products from Japan," Lee said. "If radioactive materials are detected in other parts of the Pacific, an import ban on fisheries products from those regions could be necessary."

The other bills include strengthening regulations on place-of-origin labeling amid concern that seafood from Fukushima could still be imported after undergoing various processing steps despite the existing ban on imports from the region.

"We will strengthen regulations on place-of-origin labeling, which will serve as a device to ensure that fisheries products from the dangerous region of Fukushima are not circulated in our country through various channels of processing," DP floor leader Park Kwang-on said.

Park also said the party will seek to designate damage from the water discharge as a disaster and come up with support measures for local fishermen and the fishing industry. In order to raise funds for the support, the party will also lay the legal groundwork for seeking indemnity from Japan, he said.

Park also urged Japan to stop the release if it wants a true improvement in relations with South Korea.

"Unless Japan withdraws the plan to dump the Fukushima nuclear material into the ocean, any improvement in Korea-Japan relations will become mere talk," he said. "We strongly urge the president and the government to start talks with Japan on this issue."

DP leader Lee Jae-myung lashed out at Japan.

He said Japan has chosen to create "one of the worst environmental disasters in human history" and Aug. 24 will be remembered as the day when Japan "committed a crime that it can never erase."

The DP has strongly opposed Japan dumping the treated water into the Pacific, arguing it poses great health risks to people in South Korea. But the government says the release poses no health hazards as long as it is done in a scientifically safe manner.

On Wednesday, DP officials and rank-and-file members gathered for a candlelight rally at the National Assembly. They have also joined a protest rally with civic groups in front of the presidential office since Japan started the ocean discharge on Thursday afternoon.

Source: Yonhap News Agency