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Language war emerges in Korea over Fukushima water disposal

By Kim Arin

Published : Aug. 30, 2023 - 17:20

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Democratic Party of Korea leaders rally against Fukushima water release by the Japanese government at the port city of Mokpo on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea leaders rally against Fukushima water release by the Japanese government at the port city of Mokpo on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

A row has broken out in South Korea over how to describe the water being discharged from the crippled nuclear power plant in Japan’s Fukushima.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea says the water from the plant is “nuclear waste,” while the ruling People Power Party would rather call it “treated wastewater,” as does the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The People Power Party on Wednesday said that the wastewater from Fukushima, while still slightly radioactive, is treated and diluted before it is released into the ocean, and needs to be referred to as such for clarity. On the ruling party’s suggestion, Prime Minister Han Duk-soo said the government would mull officially using the term treated wastewater, which would be “more accurate,” as opposed to just wastewater.

The ruling party’s chief spokesperson Rep. Yoo Sang-bum accused the Democratic Party of “campaigning to stoke public fears” by “aggrandizing the dangers of the water’s ocean release.”

“Prior to discharge, the wastewater is treated for removal of contaminants, and you will find that ‘treated wastewater’ is actually the term the IAEA uses in its official reports. This isn’t political,” he said.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party -- which has traditionally been more hawkish toward Japan and negative toward nuclear power in general -- insists on calling the water “nuclear waste” or “radioactive wastewater.”

The opposition party’s leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung in multiple public appearances has called the water’s release an “act of nuclear terrorism” and claimed that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, with its efforts to align more closely with Japan, was “being complicit.”

The Democratic Party is planning a series of rallies and other collective actions to condemn the Fukushima water discharge and the Japanese government, along with the Yoon administration’s policies on Japan.

On top of protest visits to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the party said it would file a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Council over the harm it claims the water’s release poses to public health and the environment.