India wants to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Photo: iStock
Some say Australia's nuclear submarine deal is opening the way for nuclear power in the country, but the prime minister disagrees. Photo: iStock

The relationship between Seoul and Tokyo has deteriorated rapidly since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an economic retaliation against South Korea on July 1. Seoul has been responding to the Japanese government’s actions, and the South Korean people have been boycotting Japanese products as a countermeasure in the diplomatic war with Japan. However, there have been media reports recently that could strain the relationship even further. Outlets reported that there was a possibility that the Japanese government could discharge contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

If the Japanese government discharges 1.1 million metric tons of highly toxic radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, it could flow into the East Sea – which the Japanese call the Sea of Japan – within a year. The South Korean government vowed to respond and a Foreign Ministry spokesman said it would ask Japan for information about the status of the polluted water at the Fukushima plant.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned a Japanese Embassy official on Monday and asked for a formal response from Tokyo regarding the Fukushima-contaminated water discharge plan. The Korean government should respond with finality to this issue. Just as the government has fundamentally prevented the import of Fukushima seafood by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, the government should take a hard line on this issue.

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at the Greenpeace Germany office who wrote a column in The Economist on the issue, says the Japanese government should put Fukushima’s polluted water in long-term storage. Burnie also emphasized that it should not be discharged into the Pacific Ocean. He highlighted the vulnerability of South Korea if Japan discharges polluted war into the Pacific Ocean. According to the UN Convention on Maritime Law, Seoul has the right to request explanations and information on the potential impact of the Fukushima crisis on its environment. Seoul is expected to demand answers at the Joint Conference of the International Maritime Organization’s London Convention and Protocol next month.

According to Greenpeace and Korean media reports, the Japanese government has stored about 110,000 tons of high-level radioactive contaminated water in storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant since 2011. By temporarily storing contaminated water in tanks, the Japanese government is minimizing the possibility of damage caused by Fukushima’s contaminated water. However, groundwater introduced into the three reactors creates 1,497 tons of high-level radioactive contaminated water each week. An even more serious concern is the contaminated water in the reactor, which is 100 million times higher than the contaminated water stored in the tank after treatment. As of July, there are 18,000 tons of radioactive water in the reactor. The Japanese government has set a goal of reducing the polluted water in the reactor to 6,000 tons by 2021, but Burnie said it was a difficult goal to achieve. 

Greenpeace researchers also found that the East Sea was contaminated when water containing cesium was discharged into the Pacific Ocean during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. Pollution in the East Sea increased between 2012 and 2016, peaking in 2015. Knowing this, if the Japanese government releases polluted water into the Pacific Ocean ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the Korean government should condemn its actions in every way possible. In addition, the international community should recognize the seriousness of this issue and seek cooperation from countries that may be affected by Fukushima’s contaminated water.

If the Japanese government releases polluted water into the Pacific Ocean ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the Korean government should condemn its actions in every way possible

The Japanese government is expected to decide how to best treat Fukushima’s contaminated water, which will likely reach storage limits shortly before the Tokyo Olympics in August 2020. However, it only provides the international community with a fundamental answer to the problem but does not disclose specific solutions. It also announced that it would include ingredients from Fukushima in the Olympic team’s diet during the Tokyo Olympics. However, according to reports by JTBC, a South Korean broadcaster, radiation levels still reach dangerous levels throughout some Fukushima regions.

Recently, right-wing politicians in the Japanese government have made negative remarks about Korea indiscriminately in an effort to fuel the economic war with Japan. In recent months, the biggest issue in South Korea has been the Japanese government’s economic retaliation against trade regulations, not North Korea’s missile launch. And as the press reported that the possibility that the Fukushima contaminated water could cause affect Korea, the Korean people are once again preparing to address the Japanese government’s vicious behavior. It may be common sense to get along with neighboring countries, but one cannot expect the Korean people to be diplomatic under the circumstances. The Japanese government has certainly crossed the line.

Is it common sense that the Tokyo Olympics baseball games should be held at a venue where there is a high risk of exposure to radiation (one of the baseball fields is located near Fukushima)? During the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Korean people raised funds to support reconstruction. Is the Japanese government repaying the goodwill of the Korean people like this? Abe should consider how Germany asked forgiveness from other nations after World War II.

Enough is enough.

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