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Japan radiation fears spark panic salt-buying in China

Long lines and mob scenes ensue at stores amid a clamor for iodized salt fueled by rumors of a radioactive cloud from Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plant and the belief that the salt would protect against radiation poisoning.

March 18, 2011|By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times
  • A policeman tries to maintain order as residents throng a wholesale salt market in Taiyuan, northeastern China, to stock up on the seasoning in the mistaken belief that it would protect against radiation poisoning.
A policeman tries to maintain order as residents throng a wholesale salt… (Reuters )

Reporting from Beijing — China tried to quell panic buying of iodized salt Thursday after grocery stores across the country were emptied of the seasoning by hordes of people hoping to ward off radiation poisoning after the nuclear accidents in Japan.

The clamor for salt reportedly started after rumors spread, possibly by cellphone text messaging, that China would be hit by a radioactive cloud from Japan's Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear plant, which had been badly damaged during last week's earthquake and tsunami.

People were under the false impression that consuming enough iodized salt would protect against radiation and that China's sea salt supplies would be contaminated as a result of the unfolding Japanese crisis.

That sparked long lines and mob scenes in major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou.

In a scene repeated across the country, online video from the eastern city of Wenzhou showed panicked shoppers filling their baskets with tubs of salt and street vendors complaining about being cleaned out.

"I hear there was also a huge earthquake in Taiwan and it will hurt salt supply," a woman was heard saying. There was no earthquake in Taiwan.

Chinese authorities have tried to quash the rumors, explaining that the country has massive reserves and that 80% of its salt sources were on land.

Thousands of television screens on Beijing's subway cars displayed a public service announcement Thursday that said: "The local salt bureau has stated that there's an adequate supply of salt. Salt is a special product that is controlled by the government. Supply is greater than demand."

Meanwhile, China's National Development and Reform Commission told price-control authorities to crack down on hoarding.

The Chinese National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center also tried to allay fears that radioactive particles were headed toward China, explaining that currents in the Pacific Ocean next to Fukushima were flowing east.

"It is impossible for radioactive substances to reach China's sea areas via the ocean current," the forecasting center said, according to the official New China News Agency.

Salt producers benefited from the pandemonium. Shares of Yunnan Salt & Chemical Industry Co. rose by the daily limit of 10%.

In another sign that panic over Japan's nuclear crisis is spreading across borders, authorities in the Philippines held a news conference Thursday to silence rumors that the country would be hit by radioactive fallout.

More: Articles, videos and graphics on radiation exposure, nuclear crisis

david.pierson@latimes.com

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