SEOUL, March 25 (Korea Bizwire) — In 1993, it was discovered that the Soviet (now Russian) Navy had dumped approximately 1,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste in the East Sea, 190 kilometers southeast of Vladivostok.
Although the Soviet Union claimed that the concentration of nuclear waste released was lower than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standard, the Japanese people were outraged that they were consuming potentially contaminated sushi.
Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa subsequently invited Soviet President Boris Yeltsin to Tokyo for bilateral talks between Russia and Japan, culminating in an agreement to ban the dumping of nuclear waste into the sea.
As a result, the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution (London Convention) was strengthened and has since completely prohibited the dumping of nuclear waste into the sea.
Fast forward 30 years, and Japan is reportedly planning to release over one million tons of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean, with South Korea being the first to bear the brunt of this crisis.
If contaminated water from Fukushima is released in the spring or summer, it will arrive at Jeju Island at the end of this year at the earliest, as it follows the current to the Western Pacific Ocean before returning to the Korean Peninsula.
Moreover, the Korean government’s reaction to Japan’s actions has been notably passive, and many fisheries workers from Jeju and across the country are urging the government to demand that Japan refrain from releasing contaminated water.
Unlike China and other Pacific Rim countries, which have demand that the Japanese government find another way to dispose of the water, the South Korean government has only listed theoretical measures based on the assumption that the water will be discharged.
Furthermore, Japanese media recently reported that Japan requested the lifting of restrictions on imports of agricultural and marine products from Fukushima during the Korea-Japan summit.
South Korea has banned the import of marine products from all eight surrounding prefectures, including Fukushima, since the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred in 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Imports of 27 agricultural products from 14 prefectures, including rice and mushrooms, are also prohibited.
However, if restrictions on the import of marine products are lifted or the discharge of contaminated water from nuclear power plants begins, public anxiety will increase, causing significant harm to the fishing industry, tourism, and the livelihood of fishing villages.
The Japanese government has stated that it will not release contaminated water into the sea and will instead use the advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) to remove 62 radionuclides such as cesium and strontium, and only discharge water that meets regulatory standards.
However, concerns have been raised about the reliability of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s contaminated water data, and whether the water to be discharged water has been properly purified.
Professor Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, an American nuclear physicist, expressed doubts about the Japanese data during a parliamentary debate in January.
He noted that the data provided by TEPCO lacked organization, with different files using different units of measurement, and important information such as the name of the tank from which the sample was taken was sometimes missing.
Dalnoki-Veress is a member of the advisory group on contaminated water discharge issues at the Pacific Islands Forum, a group of 18 Pacific island nations including Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.
In addition, Seo Kyun-ryeol, professor emeritus at Seoul National University’s Department of Nuclear and Atomic Engineering, raised doubts about Japan’s purification of the contaminated water, noting that he had witnessed scenes at the site where 24 of the 25 filters were broken and just running, leaving a significant portion of unfiltered and still contaminated water that could be discharged.
Currently, contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant is stored in 1,066 tanks, amounting to 1.37 million tons.
However, there are concerns that even after purification, some of the contaminated water may still be discharged into the sea, affecting fishing grounds and the economy of Pacific island nations.
According to experts, contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant could spread throughout the Pacific Ocean within a decade, and Pacific island nations are demanding a moratorium on ocean discharges.
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), a cooperative organization consisting of 17 Pacific island nations including Fiji, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Cook Islands, has called for a delay in ocean discharges due to the potential impact on fishing grounds, which are the economic foundation of Pacific island nations and a major source of tuna for the world.
Meanwhile, South Korean civil society organizations and religious groups have become more active in opposing the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
On March 10, the Social and Labor Committee of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism held a prayer meeting across the street from the Japanese Embassy to condemn the discharge of contaminated water from Fukushima.
Venerable Ji Mong, who is chairperson of the committee, stated, “Human beings inevitably depend on the sea. If the sea, the source of life, is polluted and diseased, not only sea creatures but also humans are bound to suffer from illness and survival. We must never condone the dumping of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan into the sea.”
“The lukewarm and distant attitude of our government is condoning the Japanese government’s forced discharge of contaminated water,” he said.
“The government’s passive-aggressive stance and humiliating diplomacy condone a grave crime that threatens the survival of fishermen who depend on the sea for their livelihood and the health and human rights of the entire human race.”
Jerry M. Kim (firstname.lastname@example.org)