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South Korea says Japan“s water release plan meets standards

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Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, second left, arrives to inspect the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant as Tomoaki Kobayakawa, President of Tokyo Electric Power Co., third left, escorts him in Futaba, northeastern Japan, Wednesday, July 5, 2023. Hiro Komae/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

South Korea said on Friday Japan’s plan to discharge treated radioactive water from its tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant met global safety standards and it respected the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s approval for the release.

Japan plans to soon start releasing more than a million tons of treated radioactive water, now being stored at the crippled plant north of Tokyo, most of which was used to cool the reactors destroyed by a March 2011 tsunami.

Japan has faced opposition to its plan, both at home and abroad, including from South Korea, despite assurances that the water is safe after being filtered to remove most isotopes.

South Korea’s assent for the plan comes after it conducted its own assessment and as the old northeast Asian rivals have been taking steps to improve their ties.

“Based on a review of the treatment plan of contaminated water presented by Japan, we have confirmed concentration of radioactive material meets standards for ocean discharge,” South Korea’s minister in the Office for Government Policy Coordination, Bang Moon-kyu, told a briefing in Seoul.

“Therefore the plan meets international standards including those of the IAEA,” he said.

Bang said South Korea’s assessment by two of its nuclear watchdog agencies was based on independent reviews of Japan’s plan, site visits by its experts and a review of a report by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Administration, which said the water would have a “negligible radiological impact to people and the environment”.

Bang said South Korea respected the IAEA findings, based on a task force of experts from 11 countries including South Korea, China and the United States.

The plan to discharge the treated water from the Fukushima plant is also expected to “not have any meaningful impact on our ocean areas,” Bang said.

The South Korean administration has walked a fine line in its stance to Japan’s discharge proposal, as it tries to improve ties with Tokyo even though the plan stirred anger and concern among South Koreans.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung said the government should oppose the plan and take the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Japan is also expected to face sustained opposition to its plan from China.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Friday that one or two international experts who participated in its review may have had concerns.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said a Chinese expert in the group was disappointed with the “hasty” report.

Yoo Guk-hee, head of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, said its expert on the panel did not have specific concerns.

Despite the assent for the plan, Bang said a South Korean ban on food and seafood products from the Fukushima region would remain in place.

IAEA chief Grossi is due to fly to South Korea on Friday for a three-day visit to explain the agency’s findings.

He will meet Foreign Minister Park Jin and Yoo, head of the main nuclear regulator that assessed Japan’s plan.

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