South Korean opposition lawmakers have sharply criticized the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for its endorsement of Japanese plans to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Key facts: The head of IAEA, Rafael Grossi, travelled to South Korea to engage with government officials and critics amid concerns about food safety related to the discharge plans.
* Despite the intense criticisms, Grossi defended the IAEA’s decision, stating it was based on “transparent” and “scientific” research.
* The IAEA has concluded the discharge would meet international safety standards and possess negligible environmental and health impacts.
* Japan first announced plans to discharge the treated water into the sea in 2018, stating it will be further diluted by seawater before being released in a process that will span decades.
Backlash and concerns: The South Korean Democratic Party lawmakers critiqued the IAEA’s review claiming it downplayed the potential long-term environmental and health impacts and risked setting a dangerous precedent.
* The lawmakers insist Japan should reconsider the discharge plans and consult with neighboring countries to devise safer strategies, including possible long-term storage on land.
* They also criticized President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government for jeopardizing public health in an attempt to improve relations with Japan.
Regional reactions: The decision has caused considerable concern in the broader region.
* The discharge plans have triggered protests in South Korea, with legislators staging hunger strikes and demonstrators rallying in downtown Seoul.
* North Korea has also expressed criticisms against the plans through its state media, cautioning against the potential “fatal adverse impacts on human lives and security and ecological environment.”
What’s next: The IAEA has stated that it would establish a permanent office in Fukushima to closely oversee the discharge process which is expected to pan out over the next three decades.
* Meanwhile, Grossi is scheduled to visit New Zealand and the Cook Islands to continue addressing concerns about the Japanese plans.
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