The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Relieve anxiety

Seoul must keep checking Fukushima wastewater, disclose results to people

By Korea Herald

Published : July 7, 2023 - 05:30

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The government said Wednesday that it respects the outcome of the International Atomic Energy Agency's safety review of the Japanese government's plans to discharge contaminated wastewater from its wrecked Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant into the sea.

A day earlier, the IAEA unveiled its final report that Japan's Fukushima wastewater release plan is consistent with its international safety standards.

The release cannot be welcome but the reality is that it is difficult for the government to deny the conclusions of one of the top intergovernmental agencies dealing with nuclear issues. Furthermore, South Korea was among the 11 countries that sent experts to the IAEA task force that reviewed the safety of the discharge plan against relevant IAEA standards.

Nevertheless, it is also hard to allay people's unease about the plan. A recent poll found that 78 percent of people are worried about the pollution of sea water and marine products. The government and political parties should work hard to relieve anxiety.

However, the ruling and opposition parties responded quite differently to the IAEA report.

The ruling People Power Party emphasized the authoritativeness of the report and criticized the Democratic Party of Korea’s opposition to the release. It suspected that the majority opposition party might be intending to impeach the president.

The Democratic Party reaffirmed its position that the report is unacceptable, attacking it as "written with only the opinion and imagination of the Japanese government and TEPCO" and "a hollow report without (actual) verification of the safety of the Fukushima wastewater."

If it cannot trust the IAEA's opinion, it should present detailed grounds for its claims. Also, if the party wants to win sympathy with its claims, it needs to give convincing explanations of the previous Moon Jae-in government's position on the wastewater release.

In 2021, then Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, when asked by a Democratic Party lawmaker about the government position on the release,” said, “there is no reason to oppose it if it takes procedures meeting the IAEA standards.”

He also suggested three preconditions for the government position -- the presentation of scientific basis, information sharing and prior consultations, and South Korea’s participation in the IAEA’s investigation. All of the preconditions were satisfied.

The Democratic Party did not raise issues with Chung’s remarks at that time, but now it dismisses the IAEA and its report. This is why some criticize the party for shifting its position after becoming the opposition party. Furthermore, the South Korean expert on the IAEA task force was dispatched by the Moon government.

With Japan's discharge of the Fukushima wastewater looming as an unavoidable reality, it has become the most pressing task of the Yoon government to prepare countermeasures to ease public anxiety.

The government must end its analysis of the report as soon as possible and give people a detailed explanation. It must not fall behind with the announcement of the conclusions of Korean experts' on-site inspection of the planned release of the Fukushima wastewater.

If the currently accumulated wastewater is discharged into the sea over a period of about 30 years in accordance with Japan's plans, its effect on Korean seas and fisheries will be negligible, according to expert predictions. But the government should continuously monitor the discharge and disclose the findings.

Politicians should explore science-based measures quickly in preparation for the release.

The ruling party, in conjunction with the government, must do its best to figure out ways to minimize possible damage to fishers and fish farmers as well as dispel misinformation.

Opposition parties must not make groundless claims that could scare already worried people. If they keep raising ill-founded claims or making political offensives, it might be hard to escape criticism that they are using health issues to gain votes in next year's general elections.