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Dangjin relents on radioactive beds

July 18,2018
Residents of Dangjin, South Chungcheong, agreed on Monday night to allow radioactive mattresses piled up at a local yard to be disintegrated there, bowing to government pressure after weeks of protest.

“We have been disappointed that the government decided to bring the mattresses into the city without consulting with any of the residents,” a Dangjin resident said on the condition of anonymity, “but we see that they cannot really move them elsewhere, and we can’t keep them piled up at a storage yard forever, so we agreed to have them disintegrated where they are.”

Local residents and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, which has been in charge of processing the recalled mattresses, reached the agreement at a town hall meeting on Monday night at Godae-ri, where the storage yard is located.

“Our hope is that the mattresses will be disintegrated safely and as soon as possible,” said Kim Moon-seong, the community chief of Godae-ri.

Nearly 17,000 mattresses manufactured by Daijin Bed have been sitting at a storage yard for over a month. The Korea Post moved them there at the order of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission after they were recalled.

In May, Daijin Bed recalled about 40,000 mattresses after two dozen of its products were found to emit dangerous amounts of radon, a radioactive chemical substance linked to cancer and various respiratory diseases. In the past few weeks, Dangjin residents have held rallies asking the government to take the mattresses elsewhere.

“We apologize for not consulting the people sufficiently before moving the mattresses to Dangjin,” Hong Nam-ki, minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, told residents at the town hall meeting on Monday.

“The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission and central government will ensure the safety of the people in the disintegration and disposal process.”

The commission said it would set up workspaces at the storage yard in Dangjin to destroy the mattresses. It expects the disintegration process to begin on Thursday or Friday and last about 10 days.

Daijin Bed promoted the beds as containing “negative ion powder,” which many Koreans believe is good for their health.

But the negative ion powder used was monazite, a rare earth resource that contains uranium and thorium, which produce the harmful gas radon over the course of radioactive decay.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission concluded that the annual radiation dose of the mattresses tested exceeded the safety standard for processed products of 1 millisievert per year.

The commission plans to separate the covers and springs of the mattresses and shake off the monazite applied to them.

The parts will likely be incinerated and the monazite buried underground, though the commission has yet to finalize the plan.

The residents have been concerned that in the process of incinerating the mattresses, the radioactive materials may become airborne. If they are buried, they may affect groundwater.

The commission said it will be updating the residents on the radiation level detected at the storage yard from time to time during the disintegration process.

It had assured the residents before that the level of radiation detected at the storage yard in Dangjin did not exceed normal radiation levels.

Another 24,000 beds manufactured by Daijin Bed are sitting at its headquarters in Cheonan, South Chungcheong. The company has yet to collect about 7,000 more beds from customers.

Cheonan residents remain opposed to the idea of having the mattresses disintegrated in the city.

On Tuesday, residents held rallies in front of the company’s headquarters and demanded the government take the mattresses elsewhere.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]