Stop internal strife and seek ways to reduce damage: Korea Times editorial
Published: Jun 12, 2023 12:03 PM
Japan has begun the countdown to release into the Pacific Ocean wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

A local TV broadcaster said Monday that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) began to fill the one-kilometer-long undersea tunnel with water. It means the company has completed technical preparations and is ready to start the release as early as July. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will announce its final analysis results this month.

Still, the Korean government and its party only held their "first" expanded meeting to discuss the matter recently. The event was aimed at relieving public anxiety and reducing possible damage.

However, less than half an hour into it, the meeting became a forum for denouncing the opposition party. Participants accused the Democratic Party of Korea (DKP) of spreading unscientific and exaggerated stories about the damage of contaminated water, destroying the fishing industry.

In short, they said, "Stop worrying about the water and trust IAEA."

We'd love to, but we can't for many reasons. First, experts disagree over the safety of filtered and diluted wastewater. Few can say how tritium accumulation affects the human body in the long term. Second, TEPCO's track records make it hard to trust its capacity and integrity. According to media reports, the company has no criteria to stop the release, even if a severe deterioration occurs.

Third, IAEA's role is to analyze and confirm data provided by TEPCO, not directly collect samples and verify them. We won't repeat in detail how the U.N. agency is pro-nuclear power and pro-Japan. Still, IAEA's role, in this case, was clear from the outset ― not to verify but to corroborate. Yes, it is the only international agency to do that job. Still, one had better not read too much into its conclusion, especially given the low credibility of the original data provider, TEPCO, even in Japan.

All this shows why most neighbors and even Germany halfway across the globe oppose the release. The government and the ruling party must know that it is not only the DPK but most people that oppose it. In a recent survey, 85.4 percent stood against it, 79 percent didn't trust TEPCO and the Japanese government, and 64.7 percent replied that Seoul is going about this matter wrong.

To sum up, all reassurances about its safety from Tokyo and its friends cannot overcome this simple remark from a Fiji official, "If the water is so harmless, why don't you keep it within your country?"

According to experts, there are at least two alternatives to dumping the water into the ocean ― building giant storage tanks on land and turning it into mortars by mixing it with sand and cement. The former costs about 300 billion won ($227 million) and the latter, 1 trillion won, far more expensive than the 34 billion won needed for the ocean release.

Still, we can hardly believe the world's No. 3 economy and the only Asian member of G7 is opting for the controversial method to save $750 million at most.

Tokyo must realize that Japan's status as the only victim of the atomic bombing does not justify all of its thoughts and actions on nuclear issues.

Most incomprehensible is why Korean politicians are squabbling over a barely justifiable move by a foreign country. The opposition party's exaggeration deserves some frowning. But the governing People Power Party is acting like a spokesperson for Tokyo.

PPP criticizes DPK for lacking in scientific grounds and politicizing the issue. But it is the government and the ruling party that decided to condone the release for political reasons and are backing it up with not-so-scientific data. They must now get a guarantee from Tokyo for continuous checking, stopping releases whenever things worsen and minimizing the damage to fishermen.

While leaving Korea in 1945 upon Japan's defeat in WWII, a Japanese politician reportedly said, "We are leaving, but Koreans will fight among themselves throughout the next century. We made them do so."

Are they fulfilling the prophecy?