ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Fukushima's radioactive water in the sea, protests and criticism in Korea

Thursday, 24 August 2023 environment   ecology   civil society  

Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - Japan has started dumping more than a million tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake, reports Kyodo news agency. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power pumped a small amount of water from the plant two days after the Japanese government approved the plan. The dumping has aroused the indignation of neighboring countries and the concern of fishermen, who fear that the reputation, and therefore the consumption, of their products will collapse. In South Korea, opposition parties to the government, civil society groups and religious communities have intensified their protests against the Japanese government's decision and the Seoul government's position: Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, member of the People's Power Party, officially declared that "the executive found no problem in the scientific and technical aspects of the Japanese plan". The political debate that has taken place in the country has been particularly harsh, with the government of President Yoon Suk-yeol at the center of strong criticism for the approval given in Tokyo. "We intend to hold the government accountable for failing to fulfill its duties", said Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, calling Japan's plan to dump water from the Fukushima power plant "an act of terror". Members of the Democratic Party and members of the government clashed in parliament over the possibility of a direct impact on South Korea. Foreign Minister Park Jin said currents will carry water through the Pacific Ocean to the Americas before it reaches South Korea's shores. The Seoul executive took note of the statement by the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which approved the disposal plan in July, saying it met international standards and that the impact on the population and the environment would be "negligible". South Korea accepted the IAEA's findings, while China openly voiced its opposition, calling the move "extremely selfish" and summoning the Japanese ambassador to file a formal diplomatic protest. Public concern in South Korea over the launch of the release plan remains strong: according to polls, the majority of Koreans are worried about the possible contamination of seafood and the oceans. In a July poll by the Media Research Institute, 62% of Koreans surveyed said they would reduce or stop consuming seafood once the releases occur, despite assurances from the South Korean government. Local regional governments in Korea have announced plans to step up radiation testing of seafood products to ease consumer concerns by conducting daily tests for all seafood products on main markets, by publishing the results in real time and by disseminating them, but it is not certain that such measures reassure consumers and encourage them not to change their eating habits. Environmental groups, student committees and civil society organizations demonstrated in Japan and especially in South Korea, where the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements criticized Tokyo's decision which "threatens fishery products and jeopardizes the security of the Pacific countries". In recent days, the Federation has encouraged street marches and silent candlelight protests in the evening, with a peaceful march to the presidential office, declaring that "Japan is generating an irreversible calamity for South Korea and the countries of the Pacific and calling the Fukushima water dumping "a slow and silent act of nuclear terrorism". Two ecclesiastical bodies, the Commission for Environment and Ecology and the Commission for Justice and Peace, within the Catholic Bishops' Conference of South Korea, as well as 42 other diocesan organizations in the country, reiterated their firm opposition to the Japanese government's decision to dump treated radioactive water into the sea. In a joint statement released at the end of June, they expressed their "extreme concern" because the move comes despite the contrary opinion from environmental groups, scientists and fishing communities. Supported by the convictions of some scientists and academics (see Fides, 12/7/2023), Catholic groups reject the Japanese government's claim that "the contamination caused by the radioactive leak is calming down and the Fukushima area is safe". The statement cites a document titled "Analysis Report on Radioactive Contamination of Japanese Agricultural and Livestock Products", published by the Citizens' Radiation Monitoring Center and the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements in April 2023. The report cites a wide range of radioactive contamination in food products: 5.3% of marine products, 21.1% of agricultural products and 2.6% of animal products. According to the report, these data call for a principle of precaution and prudence with regard to human health and the ecosystem, which must still be applied. Already in 2021, the Korean and Japanese bishops published a joint declaration in which they said they were against the discharge of water from the Fukushima plant into the sea, recalling the goods to be preserved: the health of humanity and the life of Creation. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 24/8/2023)