Masters of incitement with no scientific grounds

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Masters of incitement with no scientific grounds

Kim Hyun-ki
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief and rotating correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The memory of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011 remains terrifyingly vivid. It was the catastrophic aftermath of a monstrous 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami waves of as high as 39 meters that swept Tohoku in the northeastern coastal area at 2:46 p.m. that day. Coincidentally, I was on a business trip in Tohoku at the time.

Electricity, communication and water had completely gone out. Sleeping was unthinkable due to the strong shockwaves. I had neared death’s door. On my way back to Tokyo, I learned of the hydrogen explosion at nuclear reactor No.1 after a tsunami swelled over the seawalls. Chain explosions at three other reactors were reported over the following days.

I remember the thick rain over Tokyo from contaminated clouds on March 15. Scientists measured elevated levels of cesium and other radionuclides in waters off the plant. After the debris of the disaster reached the beaches of southern California three months later, rumors spread that the plutonium level increased in California. There was also speculation that radioactive waters will arrive in the seas around Korea one to two years later.

I thought it could be true given the terrible memories. But the outcome was different. Even though the contaminated water from the crippled nuclear plant spread in the ocean, it was completely diluted and washed away in the vast Pacific. Science based on data contradicted my concerns. Japan spent $300 million to build underground sea walls to block flooding and leakage of contaminated waters. The types of radioactive particles halved to around 30 from 64.
Democratic Party Chair Lee Jae-myung, center, and other opposition lawmakers join a rally in downtown Seoul, May 20, to oppose the Japanese government’s plan to discharge contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific. [NEWS1] 

Agricultural produce triggered similar concern. Farm products from Fukushima had been shunned over cancer concerns. But the annual inspection of 10 million bags of rice harvested over the last five years from areas near the Fukushima plant showed that 99.99 percent of them had a radiocesium concentration of 25 becquerels (Bq) per kilogram, far below the normal 100 Bq after rigorous decontamination efforts. Nevertheless, doubts linger. Many still believe that Japan is cheating. Their questioning is based on disbelief, not science nor experience.

Democratic Party (DP) Chair Lee Jae-myung attacked both Japan and the Korean government. He portrayed Japan’s discharge of the contaminated water into the sea as “terrorism of the worst type” while defining Korea as a “collaborator” to the terrorist act. “It is like claiming that it is safe to drink waters off the same well of toxic substances,” he said.

But it is irrational to deny the findings of international inspection and accuse Japan of releasing toxic water. Japan has reduced the levels of nearly all radioactive materials in contaminated water below the stipulated standards of the World Health Organization through Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) under the strict inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Doubting the findings could make all members of the Group of Seven — such as like the United States and France — simply “supporters of terrorism.”

Korean scientists are also amongst the IAEA team regularly inspecting the samples from waters and tanks of the Fukushima nuclear plants. Politicians must base their accusations on solid scientific evidence and offer solutions if they truly wish to represent their people. That is how normal political standards should be.

The G7 summit over the weekend clearly showed a difference between the G7 members and guest countries. National dignity as well as capabilities can elevate a country to a rank. To do so, laws and international order must be respected. In the joint statement, the G7 expressed its support for the IAEA’s independent scrutiny based on strict safety standards and international laws. If we deny IAEA findings, we would be no different from China and North Korea, which habitually disclaim the IAEA.

The DP accuses the government and the People Power Party of exaggerating the digital coin scandal related to Rep. Kim Nam-kuk, a former DP lawmaker. But it is making the same dangerous accusation over the government’s inspection of the Fukushima plant. I believe in the very low radiation level in my body from my annual test instead of the horrific memory of the 2011 meltdown. Frankly, I am more worried about the contamination in our politics than in the sea.
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