Disaster at Daya Bay could mean food rations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 1994, 12:00am

FRESH food might be rationed after a major disaster at Daya Bay, the Security Branch warned yesterday at its first detailed announcement of contingency plans.

The territory had up to two months' supply of stored provisions so food rationing was unlikely, but ''I would not rule it out'', said Deputy Secretary for Security Ken Woodhouse.

Nuclear expert Dr Ray Yeung Man-kit of Hong Kong University has warned that fall-out of radioactive iodine - the most likely contaminant if there was leakage from the nuclear plant - could taint vegetables for at least two months after the disaster.

And though the Government only advised thorough washing of vegetables and removal of outer leaves, human nature meant that people would probably try to buy fresh food imported from places such as Australia and the United States, which could lead to shortages.

Only five per cent of Hong Kong's fresh food could realistically be tested if radioactive fall-out affected the whole of the 50-kilometre screening zone around the plant, said senior veterinary officer Dr David Bousfield of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department.

Testing would concentrate on imports of fish, poultry, vegetables, fruit and livestock from China.

Animals such as pigs and cows, most of which come from China, would have to be checked for ''at least a year'' and perhaps several years, he said.

Fish and livestock would be affected a few weeks after an accident, once radioactive material got into the food chain, he said.

The Government ''could not hope to check every vegetable, fish, pig and chicken'', Dr Bousfield said.

However, he said concentration of the plume was likely, leading to tests being needed in one or two areas rather than everywhere. Food would be tested at the production site or border, at wholesale and retail level, he said.

The Chinese authorities had pledged to check vegetables for export, using roadblocks if necessary, the department said.

Senior physicist Poon Chiu-bong of the Department of Health said that at the border, people coming from within 20 kilometres of the plant would be monitored for radiation using mobile meters.

Anyone contaminated would be taken to one of 10 Hong Kong public places designated as monitoring centres, such as swimming pools, and asked to shower before a repeat test. Anyone still contaminated after three showers would be sent to the radiation centres at Tuen Mun and Queen Mary hospitals for treatment.

Mr Poon and Dr Bousfield did not expect this to lead to unrest at the border, claiming that most people would want to know if they were contaminated. Emergency regulations meant that anyone who gave false information about where they had come from was committing an offence and could be arrested, they said.

People might be asked to stay indoors as a precautionary measure to prevent panic during the accident, although there was negligible risk from radiation exposure, Mr Woodhouse said.

He insisted that except on Ping Chau and within Mirs Bay, Hong Kong people were too far from the reactor to be in danger from radiation.

But Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Andrew Kluth said that the public might be advised to stay indoors ''as a precautionary measure'' if there was unrest.

Mr Woodhouse added: ''We would not sit idly by and let people run around'' in confusion, although he ruled out using the typhoon emergency warning system because it would be ''confusing''.

The Security Branch will go before the Finance Committee next month for extra funds for more testing equipment to add to $60 million already spent on the contingency plan.

Mr Woodhouse denied this meant the Government had insufficient equipment, saying it would lead to a ''prudent surplus''.