Concerns are rising that the Korean government may be treating radioactive pollution from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with dangerous complacency.
The plant has generated massive amounts of radioactive pollutants since the 2011 earthquake, significant amounts of which have been released into the environment.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that about 300 tons of water containing highly radioactive materials, including strontium 90, had leaked from storage tanks at the plant, and that nearby puddles recorded radiation readings of 80 million Becquerel. Strontium 90, the legal limit for which is 30 Becquerel per liter, has a half-life of 29 years, and is known to accumulate in the bones and cause various cancers.
Despite the developments, Korea has imposed only a limited ban on the imports of agricultural and marine products from Fukushima, and checks for radiation in the coastal waters on a quarterly basis.
“The government has no measures. To say that the government is being complacent is putting things mildly. Contaminated water continues to leak, and food stuffs continue to be imported,” Kim Hye-jeong, an official at a non-governmental organization monitoring radioactivity, said.
She added that Korea needed to test its coastal waters for radioactivity more frequently to ensure that contaminated water was not reaching the country.
“(The government) only says that it is safe. (Seoul) should cooperate with Taiwan and China to stop the contaminated water from being released.”
While civic groups raised alarm, Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to reassure the public by citing test results from concerned government bodies.
“The concerned bodies are verifying whether (radiation levels) are safe, and so far they consider them to be safe,” a Foreign Ministry official said on Monday.
“In science, there is no such thing as perfect, so we will monitor the situation and consider additional measures.”
Earlier in the week, Korea’s monitoring of imported food came under fire after it was found to have imported more than 3,000 tons of fish containing cesium from Japan since the accident in March 2011.
By Choi He-suk and Lee Hyun-jeong