Poisoned food the bigger threat in Daya Bay accident

HONGKONG people faced a greater danger from contaminated food than any direct transmission of radiation in the event of an accident at the Daya Bay nuclear power plant, an academic said yesterday.

Dr John Leung Kon-chong, a lecturer at the Radioisotope Unit at Hongkong University, said emitted radiation would be absorbed and stored in the soil, which would then be passed on to vegetables and animals that fed on the plants.

''The chance of people taking in contaminated food will be higher when compared to that of radioactive clouds passing over Hongkong in case of an accident at Daya Bay,'' Dr Leung said.

He said that the main area affected would be in the immediate vicinity of the plant; and Hongkong was about 60 kilometres away.

But as a great proportion of food consumed locally was imported from the mainland, closer co-operation with China would be needed to avoid any contaminated food getting in, he said.

''Efficient communication across the border is a key in reducing the risk to Hongkong people, as the Chinese Government can provide such information as to which regions are the hardest hit in the incident to us quickly,'' Dr Leung said.

''With this information, polluted food imported from these areas can be banned within a short time and hence lower the chance of people becoming contaminated.'' But he said the Government should take no chances and must impose stricter food inspections at the border during such times.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said there had been several meetings between Hongkong and the Guangdong authorities to discuss the plans, including the control of contaminated food in the event of an accident.

However, details of such plans had not yet been finalised.

Sha Tin District Board member Mr Johnston Wong Hong-chung criticised the department for acting too slowly.

''The Government must have adequate safeguards that can protect the public soon because once the plant begins operation, there's bound to be an increase in the amount of radioactivity transmitted to Hongkong,'' Mr Wong said.