Radiation scare sweeps S. Korea

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jul 25, 2013 - 12:01
  • Updated : Jul 25, 2013 - 12:03

In this June 12, 2013 file photo, the steel structure for the use of the spent fuel removal from the cooling pool is seen at the Unit 4 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at Okuma in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. (AP-Yonhap News)

In light of a recent report that Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear had emitted radioactive steam, many South Koreans are expressing concern about the health risk that may stem from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Japanese media on Tuesday reported that steam containing high levels of radiation was detected near the No. 3 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

According to Asahi Shimbun, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. measured the levels of dosages to be up to 2,170 millisieverts per hour. Several hours of exposure to such a high dosage is fatal.

The news alarmed many South Koreans who had suspected the Japanese government of attempting to play down the dangers of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima Prefecture.

“Why are they (Japan) telling us after all this time? There might be more things they are keeping under wraps about the incident. The situation in Japan is SERIOUS,” said an unnamed netizen. Others said the government must move to ban imports of all foods and marine products from Japan.

As of Thursday morning, “Japan radiation,” and “Fukushima” were among the most popular searched keywords on Naver, the nation’s biggest and most influential web portal.

The nuclear scare was buoyed by conspiracy theories and rumors that have circulated the Internet since the Fukushima accident.

Some claimed that the situation in Japan was so serious that Australia had stopped issuing visas to Japanese citizens. The homepage of the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, however, says that visa applications for Japanese will be processed at the Australian Embassy in Seoul instead.

Another rumor that circulated the Internet was that the Fukushima accident was 11 times more severe than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the only other level 7 crisis in the world. It offers no actual scientific basis for the statement, yet it became one of the most widespread arguments for conspiracy theorists.

The fears are not completely groundless. Last year, Japan’s Kyodo News Agency reported that low levels of radioactive cesium were found in 141 infants and children from Fukushima.

On Monday, TEPCO admitted for the first time that contaminated water from Fukushima had been leading into the ocean, fueling the fears of South Koreans who share a sea border with Japan. Imports of marine products from Japan had nearly halved in 2011 after the incident and have been relatively low since then.

As limited information about the cleanup operation of the nuclear plant is being provided to the South Korean public, they are growing more fearful toward potential hazards that may make their way across the East Sea.

Some are urging others not to visit Japan, saying that the country will be “wiped off the map in a few years.”

“Japan is finished. Trip to Japan? That just makes me laugh,” wrote one conspiracy theorist.

By Yoon Min-sik