Japan, South Korean Officials Hold Talks on Treated Water

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoo Guk-hee, chairperson of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, speaks to reporters at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on Thursday.

A delegation of South Korean experts held talks with Japanese government officials and others on the planned release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on Thursday.

Criticism and concern over the release of treated water remains strong in South Korea, likely forcing the administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to make difficult decisions.

On the Japanese side, representatives from the Foreign Ministry; the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry; the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority; and the power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., attended the meeting, according to industry ministry officials.

At the meeting, the South Korean experts are believed to have examined the details of Japanese inspections of facilities related to the release of treated water.

The South Korean delegation, led by Yoo Guk-hee, chairperson of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, conducted its own on-site inspection at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Yoo told reporters after the meeting on Thursday that his team was able to confirm certain details in its on-site inspection and that for some other details the team has requested additional data from the Japanese side. He added that the team will summarize its findings and publish the results of its inspection as soon as possible, although he did not provide specific timing for publication. Regarding the safety of releasing the treated water, Yoo made no reference to his team’s assessment on the matter.

The Yoon administration has said that it would make decisions regarding the safety of the treated water based on science. The administration plans to decide its response based on the findings of the inspection team and the conclusions of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be announced in June at the earliest.

According to a South Korean media report, a senior official of the president’s office attended a meeting of the steering committee of South Korea’s National Assembly on Wednesday and told the committee that the amount of tritium contained in the treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is “less than the amount released from nuclear power plants in South Korea.” The senior official criticized the opposition lawmakers who have focused on the dangers of treated water, saying, “Spreading fake news would cause confusion in society.”

Still, the concerns of the South Korean public have not been allayed. According to a joint survey by four public opinion polling firms released on Thursday, 40% of respondents said the inspection team would “help” resolve the issue, while 53% said it would “not help.”

According to Yonhap News Agency, a leading lawmaker from the Democratic Party, the left-leaning main opposition party, said on a radio program on Thursday that “the public does not trust the results” of the inspection team, claiming that the inspection team was pro-Yoon administration. The lawmaker insisted on the need to reexamine the issue with opposition participation. “We need an inspection team by the National Assembly with the participation of the ruling and opposition parties,” the lawmaker added.

A spokesperson for the party said on Wednesday, “The Yoon administration’s diplomacy of bowing to and obeying Japan is threatening the food safety of the South Korean people.”

If the safety of the treated water is confirmed, some believe that Seoul could lift its ban on imports of marine products from eight prefectures in Japan, including Fukushima, which has been in place since 2013.

However, a South Korean government official told reporters on Thursday that the issue of contaminated water treatment and the import restrictions on fishery products are two different matters.