The Korea Herald


Envoy urges Japan to persuade Koreans on wastewater safety

By Choi Si-young

Published : June 14, 2023 - 15:51

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The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf) The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf)

Japan has to persuade South Koreans that the wastewater it will release this summer from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant is safe, South Korean Ambassador to Japan Yun Duk-min said in an interview with a Japanese outlet.

In the interview with Jiji Press published Wednesday, the envoy said there are difficulties even if “such persuasion were to take place with scientific evidence presented” because the issue itself is a “highly sensitive matter concerning the health and safety of South Koreans.”

The plan to discharge wastewater into the Pacific Ocean from the plant wrecked by a tsunami in 2011 has unnerved Japan’s neighbors like South Korea, China and Pacific Island nations, as they believe Japan is rushing through the process.

Many are still skeptical about whether Tokyo has put in place necessary systems capable of filtering out radioactive elements.

In a six-day trip late last month, a 21-member team of South Korean experts visited the facilities involved in the wastewater release. The team has yet to disclose its findings; the delegation chief maintains his team needs to look into more data to reach a final conclusion on the safety of the water.

The visit was prompted by a two-day summit the same month between President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida -- a meeting that took place amid a thaw in strained relations.

In the interview, Ambassador Yun referred to remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during the summit, saying Kishida’s decision “not to allow for any discharge that could adversely affect South Koreans’ health and maritime safety” is the kind of assurance South Koreans need.

Meanwhile, the envoy revealed little about how the two leaders would go about resuming “shuttle diplomacy” or regular visits to each other’s countries. Such an exchange last took place 12 years ago as they had fought over who was to be held accountable for damages involving Japan’s 1910-45 rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Korea-Japan ties should be what “Germany and France have,” according to Yun, who stressed closer cooperation over common interests. Seoul and Tokyo are part of a three-way, US-led coalition that has been working on denuclearizing North Korea.

“Seoul and Tokyo share a common objective. ... Like what they are going to do about the so-called ‘extended deterrence,’ which includes the US nuclear umbrella,” Yun said.

In late April, Seoul and Washington agreed on a nuclear pact giving South Korea a bigger say in a potential US nuclear response to North Korea’s nuclear attacks. President Yoon has touted a “nuclear-based” alliance with the US.