South Korea and Japan debate issue of dumping contaminated water at IAEA general conference

South Korean and Japanese government representatives attend the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 16. (Xinhua News Agency/Yonhap News). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

VIENNA, Sep 18, 2019, Hankyoreh. The governments of South Korea and Japan debated the possibility of dumping contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor into the ocean during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The South Korean government has called on the international community to respond to the potential release of contaminated water, which it claims could have an impact on countries around the world. For its part, the Japanese government said it hasn’t decided how to dispose of the contaminated water and that it’s being transparent about disclosing related information, reported the Hankyoreh.

“The continuing failure to find a solution to the dumping of contaminated water at the Fukushima reactor after the accident [in 2011] is multiplying anxiety around the world,” said Mun Mi-ock, First Vice Minister of South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT, on the afternoon of Sept. 16. Mun was delivering the keynote address at the IAEA’s 63rd general conference, at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

“Amid that situation, high-ranking officials in the Japanese government have begun to say that disposing of the contaminated water at the Fukushima reactor will inevitably involve releasing it into the ocean. But that decision could impact the maritime environment around the world, which makes it a major international issue, and not just a domestic issue for Japan,” Mun said.

“The IAEA worked closely with Japan in dealing with the Fukushima accident, and the same approach is also needed in dealing with the contaminated water at the reactor there. That approach should consist of scientific and objective measures, including a survey of conditions at the reactor and its contaminated water and an environmental and ecological impact assessment.”

“The most important thing,” Mun stressed, “is for Japan to take meaningful and transparent measures and action aimed at health, safety, and environmental protection.”

“We have received unscientific criticism for the steps we’ve taken in regard to our closed reactors and contaminated water. Japan would like a fair and reasonable discussion grounded in the information that we have made public in a transparent manner,” Japanese Information Technology Minister Naokazu Takemoto was quoted as saying during an earlier keynote address by Japanese broadcaster NHK. Takemoto’s remarks reveal Japan’s discomfort with the South Korean government’s recent attempt to launch a public debate about the dumping of contaminated water.

During the 2011 Fukushima disaster, radioactive material leaked out of the reactor and into the groundwater, which it continues to contaminate to this day. Given predictions that the on-site water storage tanks will reach their capacity within a few years, the Japanese government is strongly considering a plan to release the contaminated water into the ocean.

On Sept. 10, then Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada provoked controversy by saying that the contaminated water should be boldly drained into the ocean and diluted. Harada claimed that releasing the water was the only feasible option.

But as soon as Mun’s keynote address concluded, Takeshi Hikihara, Japan’s representative to international organizations at Vienna, said that “no concrete conclusion has been reached yet about the disposal of the water.”

“Going forward, Japan will continue to cooperate with the IAEA and address concerns,” Hikihara said.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent, and Lee Keun-young, senior staff writer

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