SEOUL – Concerns over radiation from the defunct Fukushima No. 1 power plant remain strong in South Korea nine years after the March 2011 triple core meltdown triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Amid deteriorating bilateral ties, the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been trying to raise international awareness about safety issues related to the debacle.
For one thing, South Korea wants Japan to deal with the over 1 million tons of treated water at the plant that is still tainted mostly with tritium, a common byproduct of nuclear operations. It wants Japan, which is considering dumping the water into the ocean, to take into consideration its possible impact on the human body, the marine environment and neighboring countries, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a news conference on Feb. 6.
The plant is run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding Inc.
Concerns about contamination, which had once subsided, grew strong again in South Korea sometime around July 2019, when the Japanese government decided to strengthen controls on exports to South Korea amid a wider bilateral dispute.
At the time, South Korea had started expressing worries about the tainted water at Fukushima No. 1 and the safety of Fukushima’s food during international meetings, looking for a weak point in the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Japan prepared to host the Olympics.
According to a survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute in October 2019, 82.2 percent of the Korean public thinks Japanese fishery products are dangerous and only 12.4 percent think they are safe.
In August 2019, the South Korean government strengthened radiation checks on Japanese food imports in retaliation for Japan’s tightened export controls.
In January this year, Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, a Korean private-sector organization critical of Japan, put up posters on the premises of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul that showed an Olympic torch relay runner in a hazmat suit.
The group called for banning the use of food from Fukushima for the Olympics and the use of nearby venues for the competitions.
“Japan has lodged strong protests through all possible means” against activities that could cause false rumors about Fukushima, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
As public opinion in South Korea tends to sway in line with the policy of its leader, some are pinning hopes on Moon to ease contamination concerns related to the disaster.
But there have been no signs of Moon’s administration making moves to change the situation, experts said.