The Korea Herald


Kerry backs Japan’s wastewater release, rules out US intervention

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : April 18, 2021 - 16:03

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US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry speaks during a roundtable meeting in Seoul on Sunday. (US Embassy in South Korea) US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry speaks during a roundtable meeting in Seoul on Sunday. (US Embassy in South Korea)

US climate envoy John Kerry reaffirmed Washington’s backing for Japan’s recent decision to release radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, while ruling out the possibility of stepping into the related process, amid Seoul’s call for Washington’s cooperation in ensuring Tokyo’s transparency.

“The US is confident that the government of Japan has had full consultation with IAEA, that IAEA has set up a rigorous process,” Kerry said at a media roundtable in Seoul on Sunday, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “And I know that Japan has weighed all the options and the effects and they’ve been very transparent about the decision and the process. What is key is Japan’s continued coordination with IAEA as it monitors the process.”

The visiting US envoy underlined Washington’s confidence that “Japan has worked very closely with IAEA, and will continue to” do so, reaffirming the US’ support that Tokyo’s decision was made in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards.

When asked whether Washington is willing to take a certain role in regards to the issue, such as persuading Japan to release related information to the international community, Kerry said Washington is not planning anything as of now.

“We don’t think it is appropriate for the US to jump in to the process that’s already underway and where there are very clear rules and expectations,” said Kerry.

“Will we be concerned to make sure that the procedure is followed? Sure. We take interest in that, but not anything in a formal way in process,” he noted.

Kerry’s remark came after his meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong the previous day. During their talks, Chung conveyed Seoul’s serious concern over Japan’s decision to discharge radioactive water from the disaster-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, and had asked for Washington’s interest and cooperation so that Tokyo would provide information in a more transparent and speedy manner to the international society, according to the ministry.

Last week Japan decided to dump more than 1 million tons of the treated wastewater it has collected since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Since the crisis, the contaminated water has been stored in thousands of tanks inside the plant, but the storage space is expected to run out in the summer of 2022.

The discharge will start in about two years, and it will take decades to completely release it, according to Tokyo.

The decision -- which came after years of debate -- has been met with fierce backlash from neighbors including South Korea and China, as well as from environmental activists and the local fishing industry.

Japan insists the water will be treated and diluted so radioactivity can be reduced to safe levels, but Seoul has condemned Tokyo, saying the water threatens the safety of the maritime environment of neighboring countries and the decision was unilaterally made without sufficient consultation with other countries.

Seoul is considering taking legal action against Tokyo at the international court to block the disposal.

Kerry arrived in South Korea on Saturday after a four-day visit to China where he held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and they agreed to cooperate to curb climate change with seriousness and urgency. Their meeting came just days before President Joe Biden is set to host a virtual summit of world leaders to discuss climate issues on Thursday and Friday.

On whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the summit, Kerry said it’s up to China to make the decision.

“China has to make its own announcement about the decision of who participates and how. President Xi is invited, and we very much hope that he will take part,” he said.

During the Saturday meeting between Kerry and Chung, the two agreed to work together to take a leading role for international solidarity to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

To this end, Seoul has set its goal to cut emissions by more than 50 percent by 2030, based on 2010 levels, and limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“I think Korea has set an ambitious target and Korea is trying to do a lot, it’s not easy for any country,” said Kerry, adding Washington will continue to work with countries to raise ambition to achieve the goal and take additional steps.

By Ahn Sung-mi (