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How South Korean Hysteria Over Fukushima's Treated Water Plan is a New Anti-Japan Weapon

What is really behind the frenzy stirred up by South Korean opposition politicians, comfort women groups and media who are loudly protesting the Fukushima plan?



Protesters in Seoul are gathering to oppose the release of treated water from TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. They are near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on July 7. (©Kyodo).

Lately in South Korea, frantic hysteria over Fukushima's treated water is running amok. To be precise, it's not the South Korean government or its citizens. But it's the opposition party (Democratic Party of Korea or DPK), mainstream media, and particular civic groups and intellectuals. They are the ones inciting public chaos.   

Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) comprehensive finding on the safety of treated water and its own government's reassurance, the hysteria in South Korea has not subsided. 

DPK Lawmakers Incite Public Chaos 

On July 4, the IAEA finalized the report on its two-year inspection of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's scheduled discharge. The United Nations Watchdog, headed by Rafael Grossi, concluded that the release would have "a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment." Notwithstanding, ranking members of the DPK have invariably accused the report of lacking neutrality. 

Spearheading this resistance is Lee Jae-Myung, a member of the National Assembly and the leader of DPK. During a rally in July condemning Japan's release of treated water, Lee claimed the water should be dubbed "Fukushima nuclear wastewater." 

In another demonstration, Lee criticized the Yoon Suk-Yeol administration for inadequate response to Japan's "sea contamination." He claimed that the president should lead his people in safeguarding the nation from foreign encroachment – as if Japan's policies constitute a crime.    

Over a hundred DPK lawmakers and staff are protesting against Japan’s treated water discharge before the National Assembly Building on July 07, 2023 (© DPK official twitter account)

DPK Teams Up with China

DPK is certainly not alone in this scheme to undermine Tokyo's efforts. In June, Lee found a peculiar ally: China. In a meeting with Xing Haiming, the Chinese Ambassador to South Korea, Lee denounced the Japanese government. And with the Chinese official, Lee agreed to devise countermeasures against the water release. 

Perhaps Lee was unaware that several nuclear power facilities in China emit greater tritium than Fukushima Daiichi will. In fact, the total tritium emitted from Chinese plants in 2020 (1,054T㏃) was more than 50 times Fukushima's annual planned discharge to the sea (22T㏃). 

It appears these issues were never brought up during the meeting. 

Political Stunt Over Procedure

Instead of facilitating debate or utilizing legislative measures, the DPK is largely resorting to anti-Japan political stunts.  

As early as March, the opposition party began undercutting President Yoon's efforts to cooperate with Japan on this issue. More than a hundred lawmakers from the DPK gathered before the National Assembly Building, unitedly chanting: "Are you kidding, trying to serve me a radioactive dish!" "We absolutely oppose importing seafood from Fukushima!"

Yoon Jae-kab, chairman of the DPK's special committee on oceans and fisheries, even performed a "head-shaving ceremony" as a sign of protest. 


Starting in June, members of the DPK went on hunger strikes. They called attention to their opposition to the treated water discharge and express their dismay at the IAEA findings. As if regurgitating Lee's senseless allegation, DPK lawmaker Woo Won-Shik, who recently ended his 15-day hunger strike, said: "Japan's forceful discharge of contaminated water from the nuclear power site, despite strong opposition from home and abroad, is an unprecedented international criminal act…" 

South Korean opposition lawmakers hold a rally in front of the Japanese prime minister's official residence in Tokyo to protest against plans to release treated water from the Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. July 10, 2023 (©Kyodo).

Beyond the Misinformation

In reality, aside from South Korea, the only countries openly pushing back against Tokyo's decision are China, North Korea, and some Islands in the Pacific. These countries may have legitimate concerns, but many are also under Beijing's dominant economic, diplomatic, and security influence. 

In a bold move, 10 DPK lawmakers flew all the way to Japan in protest on Tuesday, July 4. The group rallied before the National Diet Building and the Prime Minister's Office. 

Yoon Mee Hyang, a former DPK member, traveled alongside as an independent assemblywoman. Her party membership was revoked in 2020 after she was implicated in a criminal investigation. Those concerned her commission of fraud, embezzlement, and several other charges. 

To the embarrassment of Yoon Mee Hyang, NewDaily recently published photos of her vacationing in Japan a few months after the Tohoku disaster in 2011. The photos were meant to expose Yoon's hypocrisy. They showed her enjoying Asahi beer with her colleagues and ordering seafood at a local restaurant in Japan.

IAEA Director-General Grossi (right) visits the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and feeds flounder flounder that are being bred on a trial basis in a tank filled with treated water on the afternoon of July 5, 2023. (© Kyodo)

Mainstreaming Unverified Rumors 

South Korea's Mainstream media, primarily the left-leaning ones, equally contribute to the unwarranted hysteria. 

On May 30, YTN News (a 24-hour South Korean news channel) invited Suh Kune-Yull, professor emeritus of Seoul National University's Department of Nuclear Engineering, on their radio show. 

During the interview, Suh made several unverified claims about the treated water release, elevating the public's anxiety level. He contended that wastewater containing traces of tritium could flow into the Sea of Japan within five to seven months. He further argued that hundreds of thousands of creatures can be affected because marine creatures flow freely, eating contaminated products regardless of the current.

Doubling down, he added: "If the water were clean, I would use it for industrial or agricultural purposes. This proves that discharged water is unsafe."

In a rare move, South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries distributed an extensive press release specifically refuting Suh's claims. The Ministry warned, "We ask that unconfirmed opinions not be spread, as it may cause damages to the fishing industry and fishermen."

Their concerns were well-founded. In June, the largest fisherman association on the Korean Peninsula filed a police complaint against Suh. It charged Suh with causing public unrest and harming their business by spreading groundless rumors.

The Justice for Comfort Women holding the 1599th Wednesday Protest. Two yellow hazard containers are placed in front of the stage labeled “Radioactive Waste.” (© The Justice for Comfort Women Facebook)

Suh Contradicts Himself

In fact, YTN's appearance isn't the first time Suh publicly made such comments. He had appeared on numerous outlets, including South Korean mainstream broadcast media MBC, KBS, and JTBC, communicating similar views. Those appearances started as early as March of this year (2023). 

Above all, Suh’s conspicuous U-turn on the safety of marine products diminishes his credibility. In 2013, when asked by a TV Chosun anchor, "Should the amount of radioactivity detected in domestically distributed marine products be a concern?" Suh answered, "No." He even asserted that the real issue is "not the fish, but fear." 


Comfort Women Group in Action 

As if the opposition party's demagoguery and the media's disinformation are not enough, some civic groups in South Korea are also dragging the hysteria to the streets. 

While civic groups have every right to organize rallies opposing the treated water discharge, their anti-Japan undertone is worrisome. This is especially true for the group "Justice for the Comfort Women" (formerly the Korean Council). But it also holds for the group "Anti-Japan Action." 

The two organizations are noted for their vigorous contempt towards Japan. They are also comfort women advocacy groups that frequently hold anti-Japan assemblies in front of the former Japanese Embassy in Seoul. 

What is troubling about their rally on Fukushima's treated water is that they are both misleading and deceptive. At first glance, the protests seem to be against treated water. But in essence, the organizers are guilefully propagating their ideological agendas. 

For instance, during the 1599th "Wednesday Protest" seeking Tokyo's apology and compensation on the comfort women issue, the Justice for the Comfort Women displayed two hazard containers labeled "Radioactive Waste." They were placed to insinuate that water discharged from Fukushima Daiichi is toxic. 

Over half a dozen Bhudhist joins Wednesday Rally in condemning Japan’s decision to release treated water and President Yoon’s humiliating diplomacy (© The Justice for Comfort Women Facebook)

Jogye Order Monks Join the Anti-Japan Fray

The group also invited Buddhist monks from the Jogye Order to join them in lambasting Japan. 

Buddhist Shikyung's speech clearly revealed the true nature of this rally.

"After seeing the Yoon Suk-Yeol administration's attitude toward Japan, my hopes of solving the Japanese military's sexual slavery issue vanished… It breaks my heart to observe ignorant and treasonous ideology on the sexual slavery and forced labor issue. Fukushima's contaminated water release is Japan's environmental invasion of Korea and a disaster," he said. 

A similar phenomenon is evident from rallies held by "Anti-Japan Action." On July 8, the organization hung a banner that read: "Japanese Government to Repay for War Crimes!" "Overthrow pro-Japanese traitor and nuclear-polluted water (advocate) Yoon Suk-Yeol!" "We Oppose the South Korea-US-Japan War Alliance!"

One member decried, "Japan’s unauthorized release of contaminated nuclear wastewater exemplifies their strong militaristic aspirations… We must once again initiate an uprising against US-Japan imperialism."  

Manufacturing New Anti-Japan Weapon

In reality, the hysteria over the treated water release and the IAEA report is a continuation of the Moon Jae In era's anti-Japanese sentiment. Remember that the DPK's election theme in 2020 was "Korea vs Japan." And many candidates openly ran on an anti-Japan platform. Of course, some major media outlets and civic groups aided in crafting that narrative.   


Over the years, DPK lawmakers have become experts in manufacturing anti-Japan weapons utilized to manipulate public opinion. In the past, issues relating to Takeshima Island, the comfort women, and wartime labor mobilization (to name a few) were used for similar objectives. And the party shows no hesitation about exploiting the treated water issue in the coming elections. 

South Korean government officials announce their own verification results regarding the plan to release treated water from TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. On July 7 in Seoul. (©Kyodo)

Transparency and Accurate Information a Must

Therefore, Tokyo and Seoul must closely monitor these movements and work in concert to eradicate any baseless rumors. 

But more importantly, Japan must prevent this issue from evolving into another deleterious anti-Japan weapon. 

Some South Koreans are truly concerned about the water's safety. This provides an opportunity for many legitimate discussions to take place in response. Such as when and how South Korean experts should monitor the discharge once it begins. Or what better standards and methods can be devised to detect radioactive levels in imported seafood. 

But to deviate from common sense and instead resort to such foolish behavior is anti-scientific. It merely encourages anti-intellectualism and unnecessary division among neighbors. 


Author: Kenji Yoshida

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