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Fukushima release has South Korean politicians feasting, fasting

By Kim Arin

Published : Sept. 3, 2023 - 17:24

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Democratic Party of Korea leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung is pictured drinking water as he continues his hunger strike for the fourth day on Sunday sitting inside a tent installed outside the National Assembly building. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung is pictured drinking water as he continues his hunger strike for the fourth day on Sunday sitting inside a tent installed outside the National Assembly building. (Yonhap)

Japan’s disposal of wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant has politicians in South Korea responding in contrasting fashion, with one side fasting to protest the Japanese government's actions and the other side feasting to promote seafood consumption.

Democratic Party of Korea head Rep. Lee Jae-myung, on the fourth day of a hunger strike, said he would call on the international community to join his party’s protests against the Japanese government over the water’s release, in a press conference on Sunday.

“The dumping of the wastewater contaminated with radioactive materials by Japan is in direct violation of the London Convention on marine pollution,” he said. “It is time for the international community to step in and call out this clear breach of the international law, stop Japan’s misbehavior and stand united to preserve marine safety.”

The main opposition leader said he penned a letter to the heads of states and governments of the 86 signatories of the London Convention to collectively rally against the release of the Fukushima wastewater.

Announcing his hunger strike Thursday, Lee urged the Yoon Suk Yeol administration to bring the wastewater’s release to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Lee’s hunger strike, the end date of which he has not announced, coincides with his impending questioning by prosecutors in a series of criminal investigations into corruption allegations surrounding him and his aides. He was due to appear before prosecutors Wednesday, but the questioning has since been postponed at his request.

At the core of the Democratic Party’s Fukushima protests is its criticism of the Yoon administration’s foreign policy stance, more particularly its close alignment with Japan. “Our president is risking being complicit in Japan’s horrendous act of nuclear terrorism,” said the Democratic Party leader.

The ruling People Power Party says the opposition is purveying misinformation and conspiracy theories to rally its base, at the expense of Korea's fisheries industry.

The ruling party lawmakers said the wastewater was diluted and treated prior to being released as per International Atomic Energy Agency standards, and that the opposition was exaggerating the dangers the discharge poses to marine life at the cost of damage to the fishing industry.

The party’s lawmakers took turns staging dinners at seafood restaurants with the aim of showing it is safe to continue to consume fish and other seafood.

“It’s unfortunate how some in politics have chosen to turn to false information and fan public anxiety to advance their personal political goals,” Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the ruling party’s leader, told reporters.