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Fukushima Treated Water Panic in South Korea is Unwarranted

The treated water release from the Fukushima Daiichi plant is safe. But South Korea's opposition parties have been weaponizing the issue for political gain.



During the Japan-Korea summit meeting in Seoul, a civic group in South Korea staged a protest against the discharge of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean, March 16. (© Kyodo)

Currently, there is a huge commotion in South Korea over the release of treated water from TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. The "fear" is that the treated water will eventually flow around the Pacific Ocean, contaminating fish around South Korea. 

There was a time when Russia's dumping of radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan was an international issue. Indeed, the country's disposal of radioactive waste in Japanese waters stretches back to the time of the Soviet Union

To investigate the situation, an international survey team conducted a field survey of the pollution in the Sea of Japan. A South Korean researcher on the survey team later wrote of his experience in a newspaper. In his account, he described how impressed he was at "the sheer vastness of the sea."

It seems the lack of discovery of any contamination may have informed his impression. However, extended surveillance work at sea also reaffirmed in his mind the disparity between the true vastness of the ocean and how it appears from land. 

The researcher sighed in amazement at "the sheer vastness" of the Sea of Japan. However, the Pacific Ocean, where the treated water will be released, is more than 100 times larger than the Sea of Japan.

Yoo Guk-hee is the chairman of the South Korean Nuclear Safety and Security Commission. He held a press conference in Seoul regarding the release of the Fukushima treated water on May 31. (© Kyodo)

The Vast Pacific Ocean

The argument is that the ocean currents containing the treated water from Fukushima will circulate the vast Pacific Ocean. Before returning to Japanese waters, these currents will flow into the waters off South Korea, north of Kyushu. Consequently, some claim that the residual radiation in the seawater will contaminate the fish in this region. But looking at the Pacific Ocean on a world map, one cannot help but question the validity of such concerns.

There are no reports of fishermen or consumers in Kyushu, Japan, not to mention Canada and the United States, raising fears about "radioactive fish." Even in South Korea, we hear more experts than ever before saying that, scientifically, it is not an issue.

Ultimately, it is an issue of emotions and psychology, not science. But the South Korean media persists in its hysteric journalism.

For example, typical reports that appear in the media, such as "even Fukushima residents are against the project," emphasize only "opposition." Such biased coverage ignores that far more are concerned about reputational damage such fabrications will cause to Fukushima than contamination.

Lee Jae-myung is the leader of South Korea's opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea. He and others organized a petition opposing the release of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, in Seoul on May 26. (© Kyodo)

Politicizing a Scientific Issue

The South Korean media is fomenting anxiety by emphasizing the opposition demonstrations of fishermen in Busan and other parts of southern South Korea. However, it is doubtful the media is genuinely concerned about the impact on fish in the waters around South Korea. If it were, reporters should be covering the situation in Tsushima, for example, in Kyushu, which is closer to South Korea. Instead, they choose to focus exclusively on Fukushima. 

The Fukushima treated water issue is simply being exploited in South Korea for domestic politics. Its manipulation even surpasses that of historical and diplomatic issues between Japan and South Korea.


In other words, opposition parties have been weaponizing the issue in partisan politics. The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has been boldly improving relations with Japan. Opposition parties, however, have accused the administration of "humiliating diplomacy toward Japan" and being "pro-Japanese lackeys." They are using this to bully the administration by making the issue of whether Japan's treated water is right or wrong a political issue.


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Katsuhiro Kuroda

Katsuhiro Kuroda is a visiting editorial writer in Seoul for The Sankei Shimbun.

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