The Korea Times

Korea urged to work with China, Russia to counter Japan’s disposal

- By Kang Seung-woo

The government’s plan to pursue legal action to prevent Japan from dumping tons of radioactiv­e water into the Pacific Ocean is being met with skepticism from experts who question the effectiven­ess of the move and the chances of winning the case.

Instead, many advise Seoul to join forces with other countries that will also be immediatel­y affected by the contaminat­ed water, including China, which has reacted strongly to Tokyo’s decision, as they believe this would be more effective.

In response to the Japanese government’s decision to release the contaminat­ed water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, President Moon Jae-in instructed officials Wednesday to review taking the matter to the Internatio­nal Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

The biggest stumbling block on the road to the internatio­nal court would be that the government needs to be able to verify the damage from the radioactiv­e water, that will be discharged two years from now, for up to 40 years. This was why Koo Yoon-cheol, head of the Office for Government Policy Coordinati­on, failed to elaborate on the legal action during a press conference after an emergency vice-ministeria­l meeting at the Government Complex Seoul, Tuesday, to discuss the government’s position and measures in response to Japan’s announceme­nt.

“If we decide to refer Japan to the internatio­nal tribunal, we ourselves need to provide relevant data to prove that the radioactiv­e water has caused serious damage to Korea,” Koo said.

Japan has said it will release the water, containing tritium, a radioactiv­e isotope byproduct of nuclear fission, in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards. The Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes that the water disposal method is technicall­y feasible.

For the lawsuit, Korea needs data that can take refute or overturn the IAEA’s estimation, which is why the government has been urging Japan to disclose relevant data in a transparen­t way.

In addition, there are few internatio­nal legal precedents that back Korea’s assertions on damage causes by environmen­tal pollution. “It is questionab­le how effective referring Japan to the internatio­nal court would be as Korea must verify the damage even though this is expected to occur one year after the planned release,” said Jin Chang-soo, the director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Sejong Institute.

“We would be better trying to address the issue diplomatic­ally first, leaving the legal action as a last resort. We need to be cautious about looking at legal action first.”

Although the United States has endorsed Japan’s decision to release the polluted water into the Pacific Ocean, there are many other countries expressing opposition, raising calls for Korea to cooperate with them.

On Wednesday, Korea and China held an inaugural working-level dialogue for maritime cooperatio­n and reaffirmed their opposition to Japan releasing the contaminat­ed water without a full consultati­on with neighborin­g countries, and agreed to consider measures depending on Tokyo’s future response, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Along with Korea and China, Russia has also expressed “serious concern”

2 over the decision and “regret” over a failure to consult with Moscow on the plan in advance, asking for more details on all aspects of the planned discharge of the radioactiv­e water, according to the Tass state news agency.

In addition, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong held a phone conversati­on with his Singaporea­n counterpar­t Vivian Balakrishn­an, Tuesday, and they addressed concerns over the issue and the potential risks to people and the surroundin­g environmen­t.

“It will be helpful to hold a trilateral meeting between Korea, China and Japan or to form a multilater­al dialogue platform with China, Russia and others for talks with Japan,” said Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University.

Jin added: “It is better to discuss the issue in multilater­al diplomacy and through it neighborin­g countries can urge Japan to handle the discharge transparen­tly.”

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