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by Tim Beissmann

Eight hundred cars on a boat from Japan to Sydney will become the first vehicles tested for radiation in Australia over nuclear safety concerns.

A News Limited report revealed that 700 Toyota vehicles and 100 other cars exported from Yokohama will be analysed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) when the cargo ship Trans Future 7 docks on Thursday at Port Kembla in Wollongong.

Of particular interest are 30 used vehicles, which may not have been subjected to the same level of safety testing and scrutiny in Japan as brand new vehicles.

The potential radiation threat is linked to the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which was damaged during the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11.

At the beginning of March, The Mainichi Daily News in Chile reported that customs agents had detected low levels of radiation on vehicles shipped from Japan.

Traces of radiation were found on 21 of the 2500 vehicles that were shipped from Yokohama. The Chilean Nuclear Commission deemed the level of radiation too low to be harmful to human health, although Chilean port workers protested, believing their safety was being put at risk.

Following months of campaigning by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), ARPANSA has agreed to begin screening cars arriving in Australia from Japan.

“This is a win for workers, and also a win for the Australian public,” said Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith.

“Any risk of radiation is too big a risk to take. Workers and consumers come into direct contact with these cars – the Government watchdog must ensure there is no health and safety risk.”

Mr Smith said the Australian public had a right to know if there was a radiation threat.

“We’re pleased ARPANSA have recognised that this is an important health and safety issue, and will be screening the next batch of cars being imported from Japan,” he said.

The MUA is currently working towards radiation screening for all Japanese cargo entering Australia.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) already tests export vehicles for radiation, and since March 25, its results have been “significantly lower than the maximum allowable limit recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)”.

“JAMA is fully confident in the safety of all motor vehicles manufactured in Japan,” it said in a statement.

“At the same time, it is aware of the need for consumers everywhere to be assured of such safety. For that reason, JAMA has initiated its own procedures to test the radiation levels of vehicles produced in Japan, having enlisted the expertise of an external authority specializing in the field.

“JAMA is entirely confident that the motor vehicles now being manufactured by its member automakers in Japan present no cause for concern to consumers, whether overseas or in Japan.”

CarAdvice contacted the eight major Japanese brands in Australia to determine whether their vehicles are shipped from the Yokohama port:

Toyota/Lexus

Toyota Australia’s Mike Breen confirmed 646 Toyota vehicles and 55 Lexus’ were currently on the Trans Future 7 ahead of their arrival in Australia on Thursday, although it was his understanding that the vast majority of Toyota and Lexus vehicles shipped to Australia left from the Nagoya port rather than Yokohama.

Lexus Australia’s Tyson Bowen forwarded a statement concerning the issue:

“The radiation levels recorded by JAMA at locations where Toyota and Lexus manufacture vehicles and the ports used for shipment are substantially below the allowable limits recommended by the IAEA.

“In April 2011, Toyota Motor Corporation commenced random measurement of radiation levels of its export vehicles, as well as other component exports at Japanese export ports, for the peace of mind of customers.  The results are consistent with JAMA’s results, in that radiation levels are substantially below the IAEA allowable limits.”

Subaru

Subaru Australia’s David Rowley confirmed all imported vehicles, except the Tribeca, came to Australia through the Yokohama port, although no vehicles were on the Trans Future 7.

Honda

Honda Australia’s Melissa Cross confirmed Accord Euro, Odyssey and Legend vehicles imported to Australia passed through the from the port of Yokohama. No Honda vehicles are on the Trans Future 7. Ms Cross insisted Honda Motor inspected its vehicles in accordance with JAMA protocols.

Nissan

Nissan Australia’s Jeff Fisher confirmed Nissan had no vehicles on the ship. He said it was his understanding that a very small number of Nissan vehicles pass through the Yokohama port, and insisted that Nissan had been conducting radiation tests at its factories for some time.

Suzuki

Suzuki Australia’s Andrew Ellis said all Australian Suzuki vehicles used a different port in the south of Japan called Omaezaki.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Motors Australia’s Lenore Fletcher said all of its vehicles were shipped Nagoya and Mizushima, not Yokohama.

Mazda

Mazda Australia’s Steve Maciver confirmed Mazda vehicles shipped to Australia only came via the Hiroshima and Hofu ports, which are in the south of Japan.

In April and May alone, more than 44,600 vehicles that were produced in Japan were registered in Australia. It is by far our largest importer, accounting for more than one third of our total vehicle import market.

We will update the story as we hear more. Stay tuned for updates.




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