SEOUL – South Korea said Friday it will strengthen radiation checks on imports of three recycling waste products from Japan, amid an escalating economic and political row between the two countries.
The move, announced by the Environment Ministry in Seoul, is likely to be seen as part of the countermeasures taken against Tokyo’s recent tightening of controls on exports to South Korea, and it follows a similar measure last week targeting coal ash imports from Japan.
The ministry said that for waste plastics, tires and batteries imported from Japan and Russia, on-site inspections of importers’ radiation inspection records will be conducted once a month, compared with the current inspections conducted once every three months. According to Yonhap News Agency, radiation checks until now have been limited to imports from Japan and Russia that have a possibility of contamination.
In explaining the decision, a ministry spokesman told a briefing that the tightening of safety inspections is to “secure the health and safety of the people as well as preservation of the environment.” He added that the move is “not a countermeasure against a trade spat or tightening of exports regarding a specific country,” without naming Japan.
In 2018, South Korea imported about 166,000 tons of plastic waste from countries including the United States and the Philippines, with about 66,000 tons coming from Japan. In the same year, 240,000 tons of waste tires were imported, with about 6,900 tons of that coming from Japan.
On July 4, Japan imposed tighter controls requiring case-by-case licenses for the export of key materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels to South Korea. Seoul views the tightened measures, which are threatening to choke off its dominant tech industry, as retaliation for a long-standing dispute over wartime forced labor.
As nearly all coal ash imports come from Japan, tightened radiation checks by South Korea on the byproduct from thermal power plants, announced Aug. 8, are considered more likely to be a countermeasure against Tokyo’s stricter controls.
Relations between the neighboring countries have sunk to new lows following South Korean court decisions ordering compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japanese factories during Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula, from 1910 to 1945.
On Tuesday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry announced it would actively respond to plans being made by Japan for the handling of water contaminated as a result of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown.
In the wake of the meltdown, Seoul imposed a ban on some types of seafood products from eight prefectures, including Aomori, Fukushima and Chiba.
It expanded the ban in September 2013 to include all seafood products from the eight prefectures and added a requirement that Japanese companies attach safety certificates when any traces of radiation are found in seafood from other regions.