Rumors fly on Internet over fears of radiation

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Rumors fly on Internet over fears of radiation


Passengers from Japan pass through a scanner to check radiation levels at Incheon International Airport, yesterday. [YONHAP]

Korean government officials expressed concern yesterday that some Korean Internet users are needlessly stirring up fears related to the Japan disaster, as mass text messages and Internet posts plaguing the Web have led to a misunderstanding of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

Koreans have been sending messages to friends and family warning them to stay indoors and keep their windows closed since the Japanese government confirmed radiation leaks from tsunami-damaged reactors in Fukushima.

“I sent text messages to my friends because I heard from my boss that wind blowing from Fukushima turned northward heading to the Korean Peninsula,” said a 27-year-old company worker surnamed Lim. “We’re told to avoid getting wet by rain because it could contain radioactive material. Whether the information’s true or not, I immediately sent out messages because we would be in big trouble if that’s true.”

The Korea Meteorological Administration said there is only a slight chance of radiation spreading to Korea by air, because the westerlies, which dominate in northeastern Japan, are blowing most radiation out to the Pacific Ocean, not toward the Korean Peninsula.

Despite the government’s requests for the false rumors to stop, they continue to spread among popular Internet portals.

One Internet user posted a message on Agora on Wednesday with a warning that “the rain expected to fall on the weekend is likely to contain radioactive fallout.”

The user with the ID “Hwanggeum deulnyeok,” tagged a map of Friday morning’s weather forecast by Yahoo Japan and criticized the government, saying it is hiding the truth.

“Because wind blows from high pressure to low pressure, I’m afraid that radioactive material will reach Korea by wind,” the user wrote.

“The government should plan a week ahead and it must announce instructions on how to handle the situation,” the user wrote. “The trust of the government will collapse if it belatedly tells the public to avoid rain.”

The message was read by 40,560 viewers as of 4:40 p.m. yesterday and quickly spread to Twitter and Facebook.

To quell growing fears of a radiation crisis developing in Korea, Kim Seung-bae, spokesman of the Korea Meteorological Administration, wrote a message refuting the argument Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s true that wind blows from high pressure to low pressure,” Kim wrote. “But even if Japan is now in high pressure, the wind blows east to the Pacific Ocean, not to the Korean Peninsula, due to the rotation of the earth.

“It’s impossible that Japan’s radioactive will reach Korea with surface wind,” Kim said. “To make radioactive material reach the Korean Peninsula, the material would have to be carried by upper-level winds. But upper-level winds are westerlies, which always blow westward from the Korean Peninsula to Japan.”

Even President Lee Myung-bak expressed concern over the rumors.

“Some people are concerned that radioactive material will reach the peninsula, but there’s nothing to worry about,” President Lee was quoted as saying by Grand National Party spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan. “Such groundless rumors must be stopped.”

Meanwhile, the Kospi plunged more than 80 points to hit 1,800 on Tuesday afternoon as a groundless rumor regarding radioactive leakage from Japan to Korea spread around 11 a.m.

The Korea Exchange and the National Police Agency have decided to conduct a joint investigation into the spread of rumors, which caused the stock market to plunge on Tuesday.

One rumor online: “An explosion at a nuclear reactor in Fukushima. A radioactive wind could arrive in Korea as early as 4 p.m. today.”

By Kim Mi-ju, Jung Jae-yoon []

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