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EDITORIAL | Fukushima Treated Water Inspection Can Dispel South Korea's Fears

Many hope that the Fukushima treated water inspection team's work will lead to the lifting of South Korea's continuing import ban on Japanese marine products.



Fukushima treated water
Tanks of treated water are lined up over a large area at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. (Kyodo)

A team of South Korean experts is visiting Japan from May 23 to review Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) plans for treating and disposing of contaminated water from its crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The company is planning the release of treated water from the power station into the Pacific Ocean beginning in the summer of 2023.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol agreed on an inspection when the two met in Seoul on May 7. It came about due to strong concerns among the South Korean public about the safety of the Fukushima treated water discharge. 

There is considerable hope that the delegation will directly help dispel the South Korean public's fears. 

Prime Minister Kishida (far right) holds a meeting with South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol (far left) at the presidential office in Seoul on May 7. (Pool photo via Kyodo)

Dispelling Possible Misunderstanding

Furthermore, it is hoped the inspection will lead to the lifting of South Korea's continuing import ban on marine products from Fukushima and some other prefectures. 

There are also other worries. In particular, there is concern that South Koreans could mistake the inspection as a "joint verification" of the safety of discharge into the ocean. 

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura sought to avoid such a misunderstanding by South Koreans in his comments at a news conference on May 9. "The purpose of the inspection is not to make an evaluation of the safety of treated water," he said. "It is intended exclusively to help deepen understanding in South Korea about the safety of the treated water release." 

We trust the South Korean delegation is fully aware of this point and will listen to Japan's explanations at the site. If that happens, it should further an understanding of the inaccuracy of the expression "contaminated water." The expression is sometimes used in South Korea in reference to wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Fukushima treated water
IAEA Secretary-General Grossi (second from right) inspects TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on May 19, 2022. (pool photo)

Understanding 'Treated Water'

Treated water is made by removing as much radioactive material as possible from the contaminated water produced by the nuclear accident. The remaining treated water contains small quantities of the natural radioactive material tritium. This is then sufficiently diluted and released into the Pacific Ocean one kilometer offshore in an undersea tunnel.

Moreover, the safety of the release program is taking place under the monitoring and verification of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Japan has already sufficiently disseminated information regarding the ocean discharge plan. It has done so both domestically and internationally. Its decision to accept the South Korean inspection team was not for the purpose of joint verification.

Misunderstanding and distrust of treated water are still deeply rooted in South Korea. The upcoming inspection by South Korean experts is aimed at dispelling that current distrust. Without it, reconciliation efforts that have just begun to burgeon between Tokyo and Seoul could be undermined.

tactical nuclear weapons
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). North Korea's Korean Central News Agency released this undated photo on November 19, 2022. (© KCNA via Reuters)

Overcoming Seoul's Past Failure to Keep Its Word

Japan and South Korea both face the threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs. Together, they urgently need to strengthen deterrence against the North through mutual cooperation. 

In this case, the purpose of the South Korean expert team's visit to Fukushima is to foster that reconciliation. Looking back, Japan and South Korea share a difficult history. And in the past, many agreements have been trampled on by the South Korean side. There is a strong wish not to see a recurrence of such misunderstandings in the case of Fukushima treated water.

The inspection team will need to be careful observers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power site. And they must carefully inform the South Korean public of the state of Japan's preparations for the treated water release. 

We strongly hope that the South Korean expert team's visit will prove to be truly fruitful for both countries. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun