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Seoul gauges impact of Fukushima nuclear plant blasts

Lawmaker calls for joint study with N.K. on Mount Baekdu volcano


Cheong Wa Dae held meetings Monday to assess the impact of the explosions at a Japanese nuclear plant and to check the safety of Korea’s atomic power facilities, while lawmakers discussed plans to assist the quake-ridden country.

A second hydrogen explosion occurred Monday at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 kilometers north of Tokyo, triggering an order for people still remaining in the evacuation zone to stay indoors.

As President Lee Myung-bak is visiting the United Arab Emirates, his chief-of-staff Yim Tae-hee presided over a meeting of presidential aides and was briefed on the possible spread of radioactive material to neighboring countries.

“It is necessary that we take all possible measures to assist Japan,” Yim told reporters after the meeting, adding that all Cheong Wa Dae staff will take part in fund-raising to help the neighboring country.

He also urged some religious leaders and Internet users to refrain from making provocative comments that could hurt Japanese people’s feelings.

The presidential office received reports on damage in Japan, the economic and environmental ripple effect on Korea and the possibility of aftershocks causing additional damage to Japanese nuclear plants.

Cheong Wa Dae’s national crisis management office also checked on the safety of South Koreans traveling or living in Japan, as well as domestic nuclear plants.

Levels of radioactivity in Ulleungdo, the nearest South Korean island to Fukushima, were normal.

“The isobars and weather maps around the Korean Peninsula show that the air currents are likely to flow toward the Pacific Ocean, not toward Korea,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

“The submarine terrain is also formed in a way that the quake’s impact does not come toward Korea.”

The National Assembly convened emergency meetings Monday to assess the situation and discuss government responses.

Ministers of foreign affairs, knowledge economy, finance, science, the Bank of Korea governor, and chief of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute were summoned to parliamentary committee meetings to discuss Seoul’s plans to assist Japan, economic and industrial countermeasures as well as the repercussions of the blasts in Fukushima.

The devastating offshore quake followed by a volcanic eruption in Japan has raised concerns of similar disasters on the Korean Peninsula.

Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, proposed pushing for a summit with North Korea for joint research on Mount Baekdu’s volcanic activity as well as the North’s nuclear program.

“Korea is not free from earthquakes. The quakes around Mount Baekdu showed that,” Park said Monday in a meeting of DP’s supreme council.

Citing a report by a state-funded geological research institute, Park noted that as many as 270 earthquakes took place each month around North Korea’s Mount Baekdu between 2003 and 2005.

“A volcanic eruption from Mount Baekdu would cause a major aviation crisis affecting China, Japan, the U.S. and Korea,” he said.

“Once the 2 billion tons of water in Mount Baekdu’s Chonji (crater lake) spills out, severe floods will occur in North Korea and China.”

Several Chinese geologists have said that Mount Baekdu, which erupted in 946, 1688, 1702 and 1903, could erupt again between 2014 and 2015.

The Korea Meteorological Administration reported to President Lee on Saturday that the quake that struck Japan on Friday occurred near a plate boundary and therefore had nothing to do with the Mount Baekdu volcano.

The ruling Grand National Party formed a task force to draw up measures for the safety of Koreans in Japan, to analyze the quake’s effect on the Korean economy and to improve Korea’s disaster prevention system.

The GNP also said it will take part in fund raising led by the Korean Red Cross for quake relief.


by Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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