Tokyo postpones relocation of Tsukiji fish market

Wholesalers survey fresh tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market before the New Year's auction in 2013.
Wholesalers survey fresh tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market before the New Year's auction in 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Plans to move Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market - the world's largest - were put on ice on Wednesday (Aug 31) over fears about toxic contamination at the new facility, as the cost of the move soars.

The megacity's new governor, Ms Yuriko Koike, said she would postpone the move set for November until at least early next year, as she awaits final groundwater testing results at the new site, a former gas plant.

Plans to uproot the more than 80-year-old market, a popular tourist attraction, have been in the works for years, with advocates citing the need for upgraded technology.

But Ms Koike, a former TV anchorwoman elected last month as the Japanese capital's first female governor, had pledged to reconsider the plan.

"Needless to say, it is a market that handles fresh food," Ms Koike told a press conference as she announced the delay.

"The Tokyo metropolitan government, which chiefly runs the market, is responsible for telling the world: 'It's safe.'"

Critics of the move cite contaminated soil found at the former gas production site.

The local government paid a whopping 86 billion yen (S$1.1 billion) in clean-up costs, but Ms Koike said she wants to wait for the results of water testing in January.

Ms Koike would not say if she would consider scrapping the relocation altogether if the test results are bad.

"I want to wait for the examinations being done by the project team," she said.

Ms Koike also questioned the 588 billion yen in relocation costs, 36 per cent higher than earlier estimates.

These costs include relocating the market to a less-central location several kilometres away and building a modern facility about 40 per cent larger with state-of-the-art refrigeration.

Japanese media have reported that postponing Tsukiji's move would cost about 7 million yen a day, and could delay construction of a highway connecting the current site with an athletes' village being built for the city's 2020 Olympics.