The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Politics of fear

Important to focus on scientific data over Fukushima wastewater release

By Korea Herald

Published : June 19, 2023 - 05:31

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The sales of sea salt are said to have surged at many supermarket chains this month. Salt sales reportedly increased 55.6 percent while sun-dried salt sales rose 118.5 percent on-year at Emart June 1-14. Salt sales at Lotte Mart rose 30 percent over the same span from a year earlier. Sun-dried salt sales at an online shopping mall increased sixfold on-year June 1-14.

Some shoppers joined wholesalers in stockpiling salt out of fear that Japan’s planned release of treated wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant this summer will contaminate sea water surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

Such fears may be excessive. Some experts say sun-dried salt will not be affected by tritium because tritium exists in the form of water, which evaporates in the process of making sun-dried salt. Radioactive nuclides such as cesium and strontium do not evaporate but the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, says they are filtered to safe levels for discharge by the Advanced Liquid Processing System, which removes radioactive materials from the contaminated wastewater.

Heo Gyun-young, who heads the technical review committee of a government task force formed to respond to the planned Fukushima wastewater release, said in a daily task force briefing Thursday that the tritium to be discharged through the wastewater will not affect people's health. The amount of radiation from one adult chest X-ray is 0.1mSv, while that of the tritium to be released into the sea after being treated as planned by the Japanese government is 0.00003mSv. Civic groups and news media have raised the issue of the long-term effects of releasing the tritium, a radioactive material that cannot be filtered out through the ALPS.

Vice Oceans Minister Song Sang-keun said in the briefing that radioactivity checks the government has made at 10 salt farms each month from April have not found any single radioactive material. Song also said that the government has found no problem in about 75,000 radioactivity tests taken on maritime products ever since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. The ministry still continuously checks fish caught in Korea's sea waters to see if they are safe from the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

One reason that public anxiety does not abate despite expert views and government measures is because the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and some news media keep stoking fears about the Fukushima wastewater discharge.

The party held an outdoor rally in Incheon on Saturday condemning the planned Fukushima wastewater discharge. Two weeks earlier, it had held a similar rally in Busan. It has a meeting planned with those engaged in fisheries in Gangwon Province this week. Lee Jae-myung, the party’s leader, compared the wastewater discharge to “putting poison into a well” and “nuclear terrorism.” There is no reason deliberately to defend what Japan is doing but the party's assumptions and slogans to the effect that Korea's sea water and marine products will certainly be contaminated are ill-founded.

While trying to amplify fear, the party seeks to enact a special law to support fishermen. At the first glance, the bill appears to be for their sake, but it seems that it will put them in trouble. The bill itself instigates fear. If the government and the ruling party oppose it, the Democratic Party will likely criticize them for blocking a bill for fishermen. A political party seems to be twisting scientific data for its political interests.

The Fukushima wastewater discharge is an issue related not only to people's health but also to their sentiments. It is a matter of safety in scientific terms and also a matter of whether people really feel it is safe. The government must keep trying to figure out ways to dispel people's anxiety. Above all, it is important to concentrate on verifiable scientific facts and communicate with the people swiftly, transparently and continuously. It must also demand concrete and precise data and explanations from Japan if necessary, while keeping up efforts to verify them.