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[Editorial] Take stronger steps

S. Korea must do more to curb emissions, push diplomacy harder to cut fine dust influx

Fine dust pollution in the air was the worst in most parts of the nation Tuesday since official measurements started in 2015. Even Jeju Island, hitherto known as a clean zone, took emergency measures for the first time ever. Gray skies of fine dust have become just another part of everyday life.

Emergency measures may reduce fine dust emissions to a degree, but they fall far short of removing it remarkably. They are minimum measures to reduce air pollution. Among them are restrictions on operating decrepit diesel cars -- the main culprit for ultrafine dust -- cutback on power generation at thermoelectric plants and the curtailment of workplaces emitting fine dust.

China has a great influence on the recent concentration of fine dust over South Korea. Westerlies have blown China’s air pollutants toward the Korean Peninsula, where they then linger.

Korean policies targeting domestic pollution sources cannot but expose the limitation of their effectiveness.

The government has enforced emergency measures, but fine dust has accumulated instead of vanishing. This is why the government needs to take stronger measures even at the cost of discomfort to the people.

Anxiety over carcinogenic fine dust hurts the quality of life. Even if the economy keeps growing, it will be difficult to live a happy life unless such anxieties are dispelled.

The government must try every possible means to the maximum. It should strengthen restrictions on operating diesel vehicles and further reduce the output of coal-fired power plants, if this does not cause supply and demand problems.

Fundamentally, the government should review its energy policy. It seeks to phase out both nuclear and coal energy and reduce air pollution as well. But it is not feasible to reduce fine dust by reducing nuclear energy, which emits little or no fine dust. If the government cuts back on nuclear energy, it will have to generate power by burning coal or liquefied natural gas. Fossil fuels emit fine dust in large quantities.

The Moon Jae-in administration plans to build seven thermoelectric power plants by 2022 to shut down all nuclear reactors. Undoubtedly, atmospheric pollution will worsen. Ultrafine dust concentration rose to as high as 239 micrograms per cubic meter Tuesday in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, near South Chungcheong Province where 30 of the nation’s 61 thermoelectric power plants are located. At least from the environmental point of view, the administration should reconsider its nuclear phase-out policy.

Stronger measures to curb domestic fine dust emissions are imperative. Added to this, the government must step up its diplomatic efforts to reduce the influx of fine dust from China.

Beijing argues that its fine dust level has dropped and it has nothing to do with Korea’s problem. But satellite photos and the direction of winds show otherwise.

Many citizens want the government to strongly insist that China does more to reduce the influx of fine dust. Government officials have said they would protest in their environmental meetings with China, but it is questionable whether they will follow through. Environmental meetings have dealt mostly with data sharing and research. It is hard to believe the consultations have been conducted sufficiently.

Korea should gather and analyze data on the cause of fine dust thoroughly, and based on it ask Beijing to take stronger measures.

China implements its own measures to fight air pollution. It reportedly cut off the power supply to factories for failing to install dust collectors in their chimneys.

Korea cannot force China to move polluting factories farther away from the Korean Peninsula, but it can offer assistance to the country’s efforts to curtail emissions. It needs to expand joint projects with China, for example, by planting trees to combat desertification and finding ways to cut down on industrial pollution.

Fine dust is a vital issue concerning people’s health and lives.

Stronger measures and more active environmental diplomacy should be the starting point to escape from the fright of fine dust. The government must stop looking to the sky and wishing for the winds to blow, merely muttering “disaster.”