July 5, 2023
SEOUL – The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday delivered its final verdict on Japan’s planned discharge of wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant as maintaining safety standards, ending a two-year review conducted amid concerns over its possible impact to marine life and human lives.
Concluding that the Japanese plan to release the water into the sea was “consistent with the relevant international safety standards, IAEA said in its report that the discharge of treated water “will have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment,” the agency said in the report.
The IAEA stressed that its team would have a continued presence at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima during and after the planned discharges.
At a joint press conference held early Tuesday afternoon with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi vowed to “carefully relay” the IAEA’s determinations to the international community “with transparency based on scientific evidence.”
The United Nations nuclear watchdog’s director general Grossi, currently in Japan, is expected to visit Seoul on Friday to meet with the head of Seoul’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission and other senior government officials including Foreign Minister Park Jin, according to the vice minister of the government policy coordination office Park Ku-yeon.
The Seoul visit by the IAEA chief comes amid fierce protests from the South Korean political opposition, which is accusing the UN agency of being biased in favor of the Japanese government.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Korea once again dismissed the IAEA as being lenient toward Japan, before the intergovernmental watchdog could issue its final findings.
The opposition rejecting the IAEA’s yet-to-be-announced verdict on Japan’s plan is “medieval” and “backwards,” according to the ruling People Power Party floor leader, Rep. Yun Jae-ok.
Speaking at a party meeting, Yun likened the Democratic Party accusing the IAEA of having a pro-Japan bias to the religious persecution of science during medieval times.
“The rush to reject the safety assessment before it is even available reminds me of the courts of the medieval church that persecuted Galileo Galilei for proposing the Earth orbits the Sun,” he said.
He continued, “The IAEA has yet to present its final report, and the Democratic Party is already jumping to predetermined conclusions.”
He said the ruling party and the government would dissect the IAEA assessment, once it is released, to come up with measures to reassure the South Korean public of the plan’s safety.
At a meeting a day prior, Yun said that the ruling party would not back lifting the restrictions on imports from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the surrounding prefectures unless South Koreans “feel safe.”
He also pointed out that the IAEA team reviewing the Fukushima plan’s safety included a South Korean expert, appointed during the administration of previous President Moon Jae-in, of the Democratic Party.
Democratic Party floor leader Rep. Park Kwang-on said at a meeting of party leaders on Monday that the IAEA’s pending report would be “tailored to Japan.”
“There is a widespread concern that the IAEA report will be tailored to Japan and political, rather than objective and scientific,” claimed Park, whose party has described the Japanese plan as “nuclear waste dump” and “an act of radioactive terrorism.”
He added that President Yoon Suk Yeol was focused on “appeasing” Japan rather than standing up for the safety of the Korean people.
The opposition party has been consistently critical of Yoon’s foreign policy positions on Japan. The conservative president, in a departure from predecessor Moon, who was seen as a Japan hawk, has taken initiatives to improve cooperation with Tokyo on mutual challenges such as North Korea.
On Friday, the Democratic Party used its majority in the National Assembly to unilaterally pass a resolution urging the Japanese government to withdraw its plan to release the wastewater, a vote that was boycotted by the ruling party. The Democratic Party-led resolution also called on the South Korean government to take the Japanese plan to the UN-established International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
The chief spokesperson for the ruling party, Rep. Kang Min-kuk, told reporters that he believes the IAEA review issued on this day refutes the Democratic Party rhetoric on Fukushima water discharge.
The Democratic Party is convening an emergency meeting to be attended by all of its lawmakers, to formulate a response to the final report from the IAEA.