SEOUL, South Korea, July 7 (Xinhua) — South Korea’s government on Friday formally recognized the safety of Japan’s plan to discharge treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, in an attempt to quell concerns over food contamination.
Seoul’s assessment is based on a 22-month review by government-funded scientists and is consistent with the views of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The agency approved Japan’s discharge plan this week, saying the treated wastewater would meet international safety standards and have negligible environmental and health impacts.
South Korea’s review focused on any impact the wastewater discharge might have on South Korea, “and it turned out that its impact on our waters was negligible,” Bang Moon-kyu, minister at the government’s policy coordination office, told a conference. press conference.
Even before Friday’s announcement, South Korean officials were aggressively trying to reduce public unease over the wastewater discharge, holding daily briefings to address what they called “excessive fear” and expanding restrictions on imports from Japan or catches in nearby waters radiation testing of fish.
Conservative lawmakers from President Yoon Suk-yeol’s ruling party even visited the seafood market, drinking seawater from fish tanks in a strange gesture to demonstrate food safety, even though Fukushima has yet to discharge its wastewater.
Retailers reported an increase in sea salt sales, apparently due to public concern as consumers looked to stock up on sea salt ahead of release.
Liberal opposition lawmakers, who control a majority in South Korea’s parliament, have vowed to oppose Japan’s repatriation plan with all their might, accusing Yoon’s government of putting South Korea’s health at risk in its desperate effort to improve ties with Tokyo.
“Japan says there is no problem from a scientific point of view, but I’m still a little concerned,” said Yang Ok-ryeo, 56, a fishmonger at Seoul’s Noryangjin Seafood Market, where lawmakers drank from fish tanks last week. water.
Lim Young, a 55-year-old consumer at the market, expressed similar concerns.
“I think it’s dangerous,” she said of Japan’s hospital discharge plan.
“Even if there are fish (caught in Korea), I still doubt they are safe to eat.”
At a news conference in Seoul, South Korean government officials and scientists have repeatedly insisted that as long as Japan’s treatment system operates as designed, pollution levels in the Fukushima plant’s wastewater will be within acceptable safety standards.
“We confirmed that if the release of water proceeds as planned, the discharge standards and (radiation) target levels will meet international standards,” said Yoo Kook-hee, chairman of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.
The safety of Fukushima’s wastewater has been a sensitive issue among U.S. allies for years, and in recent months the two countries have worked to repair a relationship long strained by wartime histories to address issues of mutual concern such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s assertive foreign policy.
South Korea’s assessment is based in part on observations by a team of government scientists led by Yoo, which was allowed to visit the Fukushima plant in May to review emissions plans.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to the visit at a May 7 summit with Yoon in Seoul, signaling his desire to improve ties.
Yoo said his team focused on validating the capabilities of the plant’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which is designed to reduce dozens of radioactive isotopes in contaminated water to safe levels.
Democratic Party leader Jae-myung Lee, who narrowly loses to Yoon in the 2022 presidential election, attacked the credibility of the IAEA assessment in a fiery speech on Friday, urging Yoon to call the report unacceptable.
Lee also urged the Yoon administration to ask Japan to accept a joint inspection by South Korea and other Pacific countries on the wastewater issue and to suspend its discharge plan until it is “scientifically, objectively and neutrally verified.”
“(Yin’s government) is putting the lives and safety of its citizens at risk,” Lee said.
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 knocked out the cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to melt down and releasing massive amounts of radiation.
TEPCO Holdings, which operates the facility, has been storing ALPS-treated water in hundreds of tanks that now cover much of the plant and are nearly full.
Japanese officials say the tanks must be removed to make room for the plant’s decommissioning construction facility and to minimize the risk of a leak in the event of another major disaster. These tanks are expected to have a capacity of 1.37 million tons by early 2024.
Japan first announced plans to discharge the treated water into the sea in 2018, saying it would be further diluted with seawater before being released through a tightly controlled process that would take decades to complete. (Associated Press)
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