What did the government do?Koreans have become fretful of health and environmental hazards after their closest neighbor Japan decided to start discharging tons of radioactive water from the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. Japan made the decision without bothering to consult with its neighbors and address their worries. We cannot but strongly regret the unilateral decision.
The Moon Jae-in administration has been protesting the plan since the announcement. But options to deter the move are limited. It can refer the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and file for an injunction or lawsuit. But results cannot be known. Tokyo’s promise to discharge the waters after filtering and diluting it to safe levels have gotten endorsement from the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). America is not just the most influential state, but also can be most affected if the waste water travels to the country via the Pacific Ocean. Since the U.S. condoned the move, Seoul may find it hard to garner international support against it. At this rate, there is no guarantee that Korea will not be neglected in international inspection and discharge process.
Tokyo is first to be blamed for demonstrating little respect for neighbors. But Seoul is partly to blame for its slack readiness and ignorance until the decision was announced. Japan has meticulously prepared the action over the last two and a half years and convinced the U.S. and the IAEA. But Seoul not just failed to observe the movement, but also missed the timing to raise international awareness and support against the potentially dangerous move by Japan.
The U.S. State secretary and spokesman have publicly expressed support for the Japanese plan, startling Seoul officials. Over the last 30 months, Korea and Japan have hardly conversed due to differences over history and trade issues. Korea could not have gotten information on the issue related to public and environmental safety.
There is still time before the release takes place. The government maintains it cannot tolerate the move. But it is not clear if it is demanding a reversal of the decision or a review of the plan. It is also uncertain if Seoul has any plan to talk Tokyo out of the move. The government response must be stern and decisive based on scientific judgment. It must refrain from stoking unnecessary scare among Koreans based on innate anti-Japan sentiment. Instead, the government must come up with a thorough and practical strategy.