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Korea asks Japan to share info on radioactive water

IOC encourages Seoul not to boycott Tokyo Olympics next year
Aug 15,2019
Addressing global concerns over Japan’s planned discharge of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will actively request Tokyo to share information and explain its position on the situation.

Kim In-chul, the spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing Tuesday that the government “places the health and safety of our citizens as top priority” and will “actively request Japan to provide a more concrete stance and disclose information on its current management system and disposal plans” of the contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

A massive earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, resulted in a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs the plant, has said it will run out of space to store the contaminated water by 2022.

Greenpeace, an international environmental organization, has warned that the Japanese government is trying to dump over 1 million tons of radioactive water stored at the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, calling it a “short-term cost-cutting” measure by Tepco.

Seoul first became aware of Japan’s plans to dump contaminated water into the sea in August last year, said Kim. Korea conveyed its concerns through a statement to Japan last October and other bilateral and multilateral platforms and will continue to request discussions on the situation.

The Korean government will also “closely cooperate” with international organizations and other countries around the Pacific with similar contamination concerns, said Kim, “and actively deal with the contaminated water disposal situation.”

Japanese fishermen and residents, along with environmentalists and neighboring countries, fear contamination of the Pacific Ocean.

Greenpeace released a report in March that revealed the radiation levels in some towns in the Fukushima prefecture after the nuclear meltdown were up to 100 times higher than the international limit for public exposure - and will remain so for many decades.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that “the situation is under control” in Fukushima in 2013 during his bid for the 2020 Olympics.

Since 2013, Korea blocked all seafood imports from eight Japanese prefectures near Fukushima after Tepco found that contaminated water was leaking into the ocean. Japan in turn lodged a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2015 over Korea’s seafood ban, a sore spot for Tokyo. But the WTO in April this year upheld Korea’s ban of seafood from the affected areas, saying that the measures do not unfairly discriminate against Japanese products.

Japan in early July restricted exports of key materials to Korea needed to manufacture chips and displays and earlier this month removed Seoul from its so-called white list of trusted trade partners lending to friction between the two neighbors.

Amid tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over Japan’s export restrictions and history issues, some ruling Democratic Party lawmakers have been calling on a boycott of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, citing concerns of radioactive contamination.

The IOC, however, urged South Korea’s participation in the Tokyo Olympics.

A spokesperson of the IOC told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday to “refer” to “recent statements made the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KOC),” reiterating a position that there should be no boycott of the Tokyo Olympics.

The KOC recently issued a statement saying that it will not boycott the Tokyo Olympics, and that sentiment was echoed by Seoul’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Monday, which confirmed Korea “will participate in the Olympics” next year.

Masa Takaya, a spokesman of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, likewise told JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday that the committee “welcomes” all “athletes at the best possible stage for their performances.” He added, “The IOC invites athletes from the NOCs [National Olympic Committees] of all countries and regions to the Olympic Games.”

“Sports and politics have to be separated,” said an IOC official requesting anonymity.

South Korea successfully hosted the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, which served as an occasion to bring about a detente on the Korean Peninsula through the participation of athletes from Pyongyang and the attendance of a high-level North Korean delegation at the opening and closing ceremonies. The South Korean government has also indicated it would like to jointly host the 2032 Olympics with the North.

Park Yong-sung, a former president of the KOC and member of the IOC who played an important role in Korea’s bid for the Winter Olympics, said, “I am concerned that a boycott of the Tokyo Olympics will cause the most damage to our athletes and will not be beneficial to our national interests.”

The Korean Culture Ministry says it is not considering boycotting the Olympics. However, separately, the KOC and Culture Ministry has said that it will continue to raise concern over radioactivity and Seoul has also protested organizer’s plans to provide athletes with produce from Fukushima. It plans to provide Korea-grown food to its athletes during the Tokyo Olympics.

BY SARAH KIM, CHUN SU-JIN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]