The Korea Herald


Korean opposition tells UN atomic watchdog head to scrap Japan’s wastewater plan

By Kim Arin

Published : July 9, 2023 - 16:11

    • Link copied

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, holds a meeting with South Korean main opposition Democratic Party of Korea. (Yonhap) Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, holds a meeting with South Korean main opposition Democratic Party of Korea. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s main opposition party on Sunday asked the International Atomic Energy Agency director general to halt Japan’s plan to discharge treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant and to find alternatives to the ocean disposal.

In a meeting with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, five Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers accused the United Nations atomic watchdog of bias and described its final assessment on the safety of the Japanese plan as “shoddily concluded” and “lacking in neutrality.”

Rep. Wi Seong-gon, who heads a Democratic Party committee against the disposal, suggested that the IAEA, together with the Korean government, ask the Japanese government to ditch its plan to dispose of the treated water.

“It’s regrettable that in reaching the conclusions the IAEA took into account no other alternatives, such as keeping the wastewater on Japanese soil,” he said.

Wi said what happened to the Fukushima plant in 2011 was the “worst nuclear disaster known to mankind” alongside Chernobyl, and the disposal of wastewater from a crippled nuclear power plant in the ocean was “unprecedented.”

He said the IAEA has failed to look into the possible long-term consequences of Japan’s water discharge plan, which the Japanese government has said would be gradual over two to three decades.

“And yet the IAEA has concluded Japan discharging the radioactive contaminated water would have minimal impact on people and the environment. This is deeply concerning,” he said. The wastewater stored at the wrecked plant in Fukushima was “practically radioactive waste,” Wi added.

He pointed out that 30 years ago, Japan had similarly objected to Russia dumping low-level radioactive waste in waters near the country. With Japan’s protests, the London Convention -- the international convention on marine pollution -- was amended in 1993 to prohibit radioactive waste from being disposed of in the ocean.

“South Korea is an IAEA member state, and our contributions make up about 2.5 percent of the IAEA budget. We urge the IAEA to consider our concerns and reasonable objections responsibly,” Wi said.

Rep. Woo Won-shik, on his 14th day of a hunger strike to protest Japan’s water discharge, said the IAEA final report was “full of question marks.”

“If you are so certain that the Fukushima contaminated water is safe, I wonder if you would consider recommending the Japanese government to use the wastewater as drinking or agricultural water domestically,” he posed to Grossi.

Citing Grossi’s interview with a Korean news outlet, which reported the IAEA chief saying the Fukushima water was safe enough to swim in after being treated and diluted, Woo said the Korean people “have absolutely no intention to drink or come in contact with the contaminated water.”

He said the water being discharged into the ocean would leave a “terrifying precedent” for not only Korea, but other neighboring countries as well. “Fukushima may be just the first in a series of future dumping of radioactive waste in our seas. We have to be careful about OK'ing this,” he said.

Woo said when he spoke with relocated residents of Fukushima four years after the disaster, he was told they were “deceived by scientists.”

“They agreed to the nuclear power plant being built in their neighborhood because the scientists said it would be safe. Unfortunately that was not the case,” he said, calling for “clearer science” and a “more thorough evaluation” before letting Japan discharge the water.

In opening remarks, Grossi said he understands the concerns of the Korean public and other stakeholders, and vowed transparency in the IAEA’s work in reviewing the safety of Japan’s plan.

“My attitude is an attitude of respect and openness about all this,” he said, adding that he would “continue to be available at all times for the Korean public, the political parties, those in government to provide necessary explanations.”

He stressed the IAEA conclusion released last week was an outcome of “intense analysis, intense study and careful evaluation for more than two years” by not only the agency’s experts, but also “renowned scientists” from 11 countries, including Korea.

“As you know, our conclusion has been that this plan, if carried out in the way it is presented, it would be in line with international safety standards,” he said.

Sunday’s meeting, held at the request of the Democratic Party, was open to the press for the first 40 minutes, then the remaining 40 minutes took place behind closed doors.

Fierce protests that greeted Grossi upon his arrival in Seoul on Friday followed him to his visit at the National Assembly on Sunday. A swarm of Democratic Party supporters booed the IAEA chief, chanting “Grossi, go home.” Some of the signs held by protesters read, “Grossi, do your job well” and “IAEA, discard the biased report.”

Progressive groups here including Minbyun, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on Saturday staged a rally outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office condemning the IAEA and its verdict on Japan’s plan that escalated into a clash with police.

Earlier this month, Minbyun filed a case with the Constitutional Court against the Korean government for “not taking actions to block Japan’s plan” and thereby “neglecting its duty to protect the lives and safety of Korean people.”

The ruling People Power Party said in response that the preceding administration under President Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party had not objected to the Fukushima water discharge plan that was already being proposed at the time.

Then-Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, speaking at an Assembly session on Oct. 26, 2020, said that discharging the water from the Fukushima plant was “a matter of sovereignty” for Japan and a “decision up to the Japanese government.”

Chung Eui-yong, who succeeded Kang as foreign minister, similarly said that as long as Japan’s plan is in accordance with IAEA standards, there was “no reason to object" to the water discharge.

The Korean government said in its own report Friday that it found Japan’s plan not to be in violation of international safety standards, echoing the IAEA’s assessment.