News / Asia

Radiation Scare Prompts South Korea Salt Shortage

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Stores across South Korea are seeing salt disappear from shelves.

Buyers say they want to stock up ahead of possible contamination from radiation in Japan. Others are under the impression that ingesting it offers protection from radioactive iodine.

South Koreans have gone on a salt buying binge. That has prompted the price of salt to nearly double since this time a year ago.

Some are calling it an irrational reaction to the nuclear power plant accident in Japan.

Seoul housewife Lee Jeong-hwa says she heard that sea water could start being affected by radiation from Japan by Wednesday, if not earlier.

Lee says that is why she went out today to buy some salt produced before the nuclear accident. She explains she is trying to get pregnant and does not want to eat contaminated salt.

The branch manager of a Lotte Market in downtown Seoul, Kang Dae-hee, says his store used to sell one or two packs of salt per day.

Kang says recently that has increased to seven or eight packs and, even, sometimes 10 daily. He explains that foreign tourists are coming by frequently and also buying unusual quantities of seaweed products, such as kelp, which also is a source of iodine.

Panic salt buying was reported last month in China. That prompted the government there to launch a crackdown on hoarding and price gouging.

Scientists and authorities express skepticism about such reactions from consumers. They note that radiation, except for the immediate areas surrounding the Fukushima, Japan nuclear facility, is not likely to register at any level of concern to human health. They also say ingesting salt will not protect against radioactive iodine fallout.

Dr. Ahn Young-sil, a professor of nuclear medicine at the Ajou Medical Center in Suwon city, says seaweed and salt products do not contain enough iodine to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing the amount of radiation that would be spewed from a significant nuclear disaster. And she warns that consuming these products in large quantities could cause other health problems.

The Salt Institute, in the United States, says a person would have to eat more than one-and-a-half kilograms of iodized table salt daily to stop the thyroid from being able to absorb harmful particles.

South Korea’s Institute of Nuclear Safety reports that very small amounts of radioactive iodine and cesium have been detected in the country. It says analysis of air samples taken at 12 locations across the nation Sunday and Monday revealed traces of radioactive iodine in all areas.

The Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, on Japan’s northeastern coast, was severely damaged by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11. Overheated nuclear fuel rods and steam from the crippled plant have vented radiation into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, radioactive water from the facility has been spilling into the Pacific Ocean. That includes water containing radioactive iodine measured at levels millions of times the legal limit.

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