SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean opposition lawmakers sharply criticized the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog for his approval of Japan’s plans to use treated wastewater from release the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. demonstrators shout outside the door.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived in South Korea this weekend to meet with government officials and critics and help ease public concerns about food security. The planned discharge of the treated wastewater from the Fukushima plant emerged as a major political issue in South Korea after the IAEA last week approved Japan’s discharge plans, saying the process would meet international safety standards and have negligible impacts on the environment and health would have.
The government of South Korea has also endorsed the safety of Japan’s plans, saying that the contamination levels of the water pumped out of the plant will remain within acceptable limits and will not significantly affect South Korean seas as long as the treatment systems of the factory works as designed.
Meeting with visiting members of the liberal Democratic Party, which controls a majority in South Korea’s parliament, Grossi said the IAEA’s assessment of Japan’s plans was based on “transparent” and “scientific” research. Acknowledging his concerns about how Japan’s plans would play out in reality, he said the IAEA would establish a permanent office in Fukushima to closely monitor how the discharge process is conducted over the next three decades.
Lawmakers responded by sharply criticizing the IAEA’s review, which they say neglected the long-term environmental and health impacts of wastewater releases and threatens to set a bad precedent that could encourage other countries to dump nuclear waste into the sea to discharge. They called on Japan to scrap the discharge plans and work with neighboring countries to find safer ways to handle the wastewater, including a possible push for long-term storage on land.
The party has also criticized South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government for endangering people’s health while trying to improve relations with Japan.
“If you think (the treated wastewater) is safe, I wonder if you would be willing to suggest to the Japanese government that that water be used for drinking water or for industrial and agricultural purposes, instead of throwing it into the sea. dump,” Woo Won-shik, a Democratic Party lawmaker who attended the meeting, told Grossi. The party said Woo has been on a hunger strike for the past 14 days to protest Japan’s layoff plans.
Further details of the meeting were not immediately available after reporters were asked to leave following opening statements. Dozens of protesters shouted in a nearby hall while holding signs denouncing the IAEA and Japan, and were closely watched by parliamentary security personnel.
Hundreds of protesters had also marched in central Seoul on Saturday demanding Japan scrap its plans for dismissal. Those protests provided a tense backdrop to a meeting between Grossi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, who called for IAEA’s “active cooperation” in reassuring the South Korean public.
The safety of Fukushima’s wastewater has been a sore point among U.S. allies for years. South Korea and Japan have been working in recent months to restore relations long strained by historic wartime grievances to address common concerns such as the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s assertive foreign policy.
South Korea’s assessment of the safety of the discharge plan was based in part on observations made by a team of government scientists who toured the Fukushima plant in May. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, at a May 7 summit meeting with Yoon in Seoul, had agreed to that visit to show his desire for better ties.
In a statement released by state media on Sunday, North Korea also criticized Japan’s release plans, warning of “fatal negative impacts on human life and safety and the ecological environment” from the release of “nuclear-contaminated water.” The statement, which was attributed to an unidentified North Korean Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection official, also criticized Washington and Seoul for supporting the Japanese plans.
“What matters is the unreasonable behavior of the IAEA actively patronizing and facilitating Japan’s planned release of nuclear-contaminated water, which is unimaginable,” it said. “Worse still, the US and (South) Korea are openly expressing inappropriate ‘welcome’ to Japan’s discharge plan that deserves condemnation and rejection, sparking widespread public outrage.”
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, melting three reactors and releasing large amounts of radiation.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the facility, has stored the treated water in hundreds of tanks that now occupy most of the plant and are nearly full. Japanese officials say the tanks should be removed to make room for the construction of decommissioning facilities at the plant and to minimize the risk of spills in the event of another major disaster. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.37 million tons in early 2024.
Japan first announced plans to discharge the treated water into the sea in 2018, saying the water will be further diluted by seawater before being released in a carefully controlled process that will take decades.