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Korean team delays conclusion on Fukushima wastewater safety

By Kim Arin

Published : May 31, 2023 - 14:37

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Yoo Guk-hee, the leader of South Korean team conducting a safety review of Fukshima nuclear power plant, speaks at a briefing on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Yoo Guk-hee, the leader of South Korean team conducting a safety review of Fukshima nuclear power plant, speaks at a briefing on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

A South Korean team of experts said Wednesday they will be conducting an additional review after a visit to the now-defunct Fukushima nuclear power plant that was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami, leading to three nuclear reactor meltdowns, in 2011.

Speaking at a briefing, Yoo Guk-hee, the government nuclear safety commission’s chairperson who is leading the review efforts, said his team will be acquiring extra data to look into facilities that treat the radioactive wastewater, dilute it and discharge it into the sea, among other things.

During their stay in Japan, the experts on the team met with officials at Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the plant, and assessed whether their process and practices go against standards for discharging the wastewater. They looked at records of monitoring results and the capabilities of their facilities and equipment.

The team, reporting no major violation, said it would be working on a comprehensive assessment with updates from Japan.

The team completed an on-site review of Japan’s plan to treat, dilute and release the wastewater -- accumulating at the rate of 130 tons per day and kept in over 1,000 giant tanks at the plant -- into the Pacific over a period of six days and returned on Friday. The review is part of an agreement reached at the summit meeting of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida earlier this month in Seoul.

The team comprises 21 experts from the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology.

The review is being carried out separately from the one by the International Atomic Energy Agency team, which includes one Korean expert.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has consistently blasted Yoon's efforts to mend ties with Japan as "humiliating diplomacy,” and is currently calling for a parliamentary hearing to question the team.

Democratic Party chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung, who rivaled Yoon in the presidential election last year, said dispatching South Korea’s own team could end up making the country “an accomplice in Japan’s radiological terrorism.”

“It looks like our government is only busy pleasing Japan and launching a pretend-review, which could risk making us complicit in its radiological terrorism,” Lee told a May 19 meeting of party leaders.

The ruling People Power Party hit back at the opposition party, accusing it of engaging in “scaremongering” and “anti-science rhetoric.”

“I think it’s dangerous the way the Democratic Party is clouding the voice of experts and scientists with politics,” Rep. Sung Il-jong, the ruling party’s policy committee head, said.