LCQ15: Environmental radiation levels in various areas of Japan
Hong Kong (HKSAR) - Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, to a question by the Hon Paul Tse Wai-chun in the Legislative Council today (December 21):
My office has recently received phone calls from a number of persons who are about to visit Japan shortly, saying that their friends and relatives received medical checks after they had visited Japan and returned to Hong Kong, and the results indicated that they had obviously been exposed to high-level radiation contamination. These persons requested me to assist them in negotiating with travel agents to transfer them to other tours. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the data obtained by the Government regarding the impact of nuclear radiation on various prefectures in Japan since the nuclear radiation leakage incident at Fukushima (Fukushima incident), together with the sources of such data; and whether it has assessed the reliability of the sources of such data;
(b) whether it has conducted any study to find out the reasons why the health of the aforesaid travellers may have been affected by nuclear radiation contamination; if so, of the results; if not, whether it will conduct any in-depth study in this regard;
(c) of the respective numbers of members of the public making enquiries to the Government in each month since the Fukushima incident about nuclear radiation in Japan or its impact;
(d) given that the Security Bureau has pointed out that the Bureau will assess the safety level of Hong Kong people's favourite travelling destinations before each travelling peak season, whether the Bureau has any plan to assess, prior to the Christmas, New Year and Lunar New Year holidays, the suitability for conducting sightseeing tours or business trips to the various prefectures in Japan; if so, of the results; if not, whether it will conduct the assessments immediately; and
(e) whether it knows the numbers of assistance-seeking cases that the Tourism Commission and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) have received so far which involve requests for refund, tour transfer or tour cancellation arising from the recent nuclear radiation incident in Japan; of the assistance that these two organisations may offer to the aforesaid travellers requesting tour transfer; whether the Security Bureau has continued to monitor the numbers of assistance-seeking cases received by the Tourism Commission and TIC and used such numbers as the factors it refers to when considering adjustment to the Outbound Travel Alert issued for Japan?
(a) After the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant incident, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of the Japanese government releases daily the latest radiation monitoring readings obtained in major cities of various prefectures, including the environmental radiation levels and the radioactivity levels of drinking water.
According to the latest readings, the environmental radiation levels in various areas are all within or very close to the range of baseline levels, except for Fukushima Prefecture in which the level is apparently higher.
The range of baseline level refers to the upper and lower limits of the monitoring values before the earthquake. Anomaly is not detected in the radioactivity levels of drinking water in all major cities.
The official radiation monitoring readings can be found at the website of MEXT (radioactivity.mext.go.jp/zh/).
(b) According to MEXT's readings of radiation monitoring, the prevailing environmental radiation levels throughout Japan (except Fukushima Prefecture) have come down to the range before the nuclear incident and they are far below a level that will trigger tissue reactions. As far as Fukushima Prefecture is concerned, the Japanese government has declared an evacuation zone within a 20-kilometre radius around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and other areas with higher level of radiation.
Corresponding safeguard measures are put in place and public access is also restricted. Against this background, travellers in Japan will not be exposed to radioactivity or contamination at harmful levels which are to the detriment of their health.
(c) Consolidated statistics from relevant departments are shown in the following table:
MonthNumber of enquiries about nuclear radiation in Japan or its impact -------------------------------- March 2011308 April 2011154 May 201143 June 201114 July 20116 August 20115 September 20111 October 201127 November 201124
(d) The Outbound Travel Alert (OTA) System set up by the SAR Government aims to help Hong Kong residents better understand the potential risks to their personal safety when travelling overseas so that they may make their travel plans and arrangements accordingly. The Security Bureau (SB) closely monitors any incidents that may pose threat to the personal safety of Hong Kong residents travelling outside Hong Kong through various means, including the international media, Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the HKSAR, the local Chinese Diplomatic or Consular Missions, announcements issued by local authorities, the travel industry, consulates general in Hong Kong and the overseas Economic and Trade Offices of the HKSAR Government.
An assessment of the situation will be conducted accordingly before deciding whether or not to issue or adjust an OTA.
To ensure timely revision of the OTA coverage, the SB conducts bi-annual reviews (i.e. around June and December of each year) and considers putting places which have recently become popular destinations for Hong Kong residents under the OTA coverage, thereby providing residents with relevant and an expanded scope of information. In addition, the SB maintains communication with the travel industry before peak season of outbound travel to affirm that the OTA coverage is in line with the latest travel preference of Hong Kong residents.
Relevant information will be disseminated through the OTA webpage.
(e) From March 11 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan up to December 14, the Tourism Commission (TC) has received 37 enquiries and requests for assistance relating to the incident, and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) has received 1,534 cases.
The TIC has stipulated in its directives for travel agents on tour withdrawal or rescheduling arrangements in case of cancellation of package tours for reasons beyond control. Travellers' requests for refund, tour transfer or tour cancellation on personal grounds will normally be handled in accordance with the provisions of the signed agreement between the travellers and their travel agents. When handling assistance-seeking cases, the TIC will make every effort to assist the travellers, including mediating between the travellers and travel agents for a consensus.The TC will liaise closely with the TIC upon receipt of such cases to render appropriate assistance to travellers as far as possible.
As regards the issue of OTA for Japan, the SB has been closely monitoring the situation in Japan and obtaining relevant information through the various channels mentioned in part (d).
We will also make reference to the travel information and alerts issued by other jurisdictions to conduct timely risk assessment and adjust the OTA accordingly. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and issue any updates through the media and the OTA webpage.
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