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South Korean Activists Declare 'War on Fake News' Over Fukushima Daiichi's Treated Water

Praising the IAEA report, the South Korean activists asked for information sharing as the discharge begins and that Seoul's experts be allowed to monitor it.

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Mothers Unit members and Japanese activists rally before the National Diet Building in Tokyo. Joo Oksoon is on fourth from the right. (©Oh Ilshin)

On July 19, Mothers Unit, a civic group of South Korean activists, organized rallies in Japan against "fake news" over the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's treated water. As part of its purpose, it sought to quell South Korea’s frantic opposition to Japan’s planned treated water discharge. The group considers these opposition movements to be largely unscientific and demagogic.

Back home, Mothers Unit is best known for its prolific activism against "Justice for the Comfort Women" (formerly the Korean Council). The latter is another civic group based in Seoul with a strong anti-Japan orientation.

In Japan, the event was a joint venture with Japanese organizations striving to cooperate with South Korea on this issue. Demonstrations were held in Tokyo before the National Diet Building and the Prime Minister's Office.

Water tanks dominate the premises at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility. (©  TEPCO)

Declaring War on Fake News

"Pro-North Korean Juche faction shouldn't come to Japan and spread political propaganda for South Korea!" That was the text of their main banner. Juche, of course, refers to North Korea's state ideology. 

Mothers Unit has looked into the recent "Fukushima frenzy" and proliferation of groundless rumors in South Korea. It believes they are primarily the product of anti-South Korean individuals, such as Juche adherents. 

"We believe some politicians, activists, and the media are using rumors about Fukushima for their individual or institutional political and ideological purposes," said Joo Oksoon during the rally. She is the head of the Mothers Unit.  

As a veteran activist of over two decades, Joo is also keenly aware of how small rumors can quickly escalate into widespread hysteria. The Korean Peninsula's geopolitical situation, she believes, makes South Koreans generally more susceptible to political propaganda. 

"From anti-American movements fueled by false gossip on mad cow disease to anti-Japan fury over comfort women fraud, we have witnessed this sort of tribalistic madness repeatedly. I will not stand idly by while rumors surrounding treated water mutate into another anti-Japan machine. This is a war on fake news," Joo said in an interview with JAPAN Forward.  

Activists are holding a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo. (©Oh Ilshin)

Theatrical Stunt Not Welcomed  

The group also criticized a delegation of politicians from the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). That group visited Japan earlier in July to protest the treated water release. 

"I apologize deeply for the terrible things [South] Korean lawmakers did in Japan. South Koreans generally do not hold bad feelings about Fukushima's treated water," Joo lamented. 

Some critics in South Korea dubbed the DPK's visit to Japan an "empty-handed business trip." A total of eleven legislators protested in Tokyo with banners primarily written in Korean that were presumably aimed at Japanese audiences. Furthermore, they failed to meet with Japanese lawmakers or employees at the Tokyo Electric Power Company during their stay.

"The fact that these lawmakers boarded Japan Airlines to get there, met no essential figures in Tokyo, and simply recited pointless slogans at the rally suggests how unserious they were. Such a theatrical stunt is a waste of taxpayers' money. It merely provokes unwarranted anti-Japan sentiment at home, said Ha Yeohyoung, in an interview with JAPAN Forward. She is the regional head of the Mothers Unit Gwangju division.  

TEPCO officials guide IAEA Director-General Grossi to a site overlooking the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and treated water release site. IAEA has checked the status of the facilities the safe release of treated water into the ocean. July 5, 2023 (Kyodo)

Upholding the IAEA's Scientific Evidence

Although DPK legislators and some Koreans reject the International Atomic Energy Agency's report on the safety of treated water, the July 19 Mother's Unit organizers acknowledged its scientific findings. 

"For 12 years since the incident, contaminated water has been safely stored and purified using ALPS without any major problems… Our organization accepts the IAEA's independent inspection of Fukushima's nuclear power plants," said Joo.  

Joo also argued that undermining respected international organizations like the IAEA could have potentially serious consequences. 

"It is important to note that the IAEA has been entrusted with verifying nuclear facilities under the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). What would happen if some member states start undermining the NPT by questioning the legitimacy of the IAEA inspection?" Joo asked. 

Seeking Cooperation for Stronger Bilateral Ties

At the end of the rally, the organizers urged Japan and South Korea to continue cooperating on the treated water issue. In particular, they requested the Japanese government share information on discharge once it begins and allow South Korean experts to participate in the monitoring process. 

Joo claimed that sharing information and involving Korean experts in the monitoring phase will strengthen trust between the two states. Moreover, it would help suppress antiscientific and anti-intellectual rumors at home and abroad. 

Mothers Unit submitted a letter on their final day containing those requests to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. After a phone conversation with the responsible department at METI, they agreed to accept the letter via postal mail. 

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Author: Kenji Yoshida

Find freelance writer Kenji Yoshida's reports on issues, events, and history related to South Korea and Japan on JAPAN Forward.