SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Hundreds of people rallied in the South Korean capital on Saturday to demand that Japan halt plans to release depleted wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, as the head of the U.N. nuclear agency meets with senior officials for public talks. Threats to food safety.
The protest comes a day after the South Korean government officially approved the safety of Japan’s plans, saying that pollution levels from the plant are at acceptable levels and will not have a meaningful impact on South Korean waters as long as the plant is treated. Systems work as designed.
The announcement is in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s opinion this week that greenlit Japan’s discharge plan, saying the treated wastewater meets international safety standards and poses minimal environmental and health problems.
“We condemn the dumping of Fukushima nuclear waste water into the sea!”, the demonstrators chanted. Holding a sign, they braved the summer heat and the police in a long procession through the business district of downtown Seoul. And “We resist the sea that flows through our lives.” The rally was held in a peaceful manner and no major clashes or injuries have been reported yet.
“Apart from dumping the water into the sea, there is an option to store the water on their land, and other options are being suggested,” said Han Sang-jin, a spokesman for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose members hold it. Many of the demonstrators.
Allowing Japan to release the water is “like an international crime,” he said.
The protests were a tense backdrop for IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin to discuss the IAEA’s assessment of Japan’s withdrawal plans. During the meeting, Park asked for the IAEA’s “active cooperation” to clearly ensure the safety of the released wastewater and reassure the South Korean people, the ministry said.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Friday before flying to South Korea, Grossi said he was willing to engage critics, including South Korean opposition politicians, to ease concerns.
Hours later, he was greeted by dozens of angry protesters at an airport near Seoul. “Demolish the IAEA!” Holding a sign, they condemned the IAEA’s support for the withdrawal plans. And “Fukushima’s waste water will surely lead to disaster for all mankind!”
Grossi is expected to meet on Sunday with lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party, which has strongly criticized Japan’s evacuation plans, accusing South Korean President Yun Suk-yeol’s conservative government of putting people’s health at risk as it tries to mend ties with Tokyo.
The safety of Fukushima wastewater has been a concern among US allies for years. South Korea and Japan have been working in recent months to repair ties long strained by historic wartime grievances to address shared concerns such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s foreign policy.
The assessment of the safety of South Korea’s evacuation plan is based in part on observations by a team of government scientists who were allowed to visit the Fukushima plant in May.
In the year In 2011, a severe earthquake and tsunami destroyed the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant, causing three reactors to melt down and release large amounts of radiation.
Tokyo Electric Power Holdings, which runs the facility, has been storing the treated water in the hundreds of tanks that now cover most of the plant and is about to fill it. Japanese officials say the tanks must be removed to make room for the plant’s decommissioning facility and to reduce the risk of a spill in the event of another major disaster. The tanks are expected to have a production capacity of 1.37 million tonnes by early 2024.
Japan has announced plans to release its first treated water into the sea in 2018, saying the water will be further diluted by seawater in a carefully controlled process that will take decades to complete.
Associated Press video reporter Yong Joon Chang contributed to this report.