|Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, speaks at a press conference in Seoul, Wednesday. He urged the South Korean government to take action against Japan's plan to discharge contaminated water into the sea. Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
South Korea is stepping up pressure against Japan over the country's plan to dump contaminated water into the sea, among its ongoing diplomatic efforts to bring Tokyo to the negotiating table to resolve their worsening trade feud.
The plan is centered on how Japan will handle and dispose of 1.15 million tons of water contaminated in the wake of a catastrophic meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.
Japan is considering discharging the water into the Pacific Ocean, and this has drawn strong opposition from its neighboring countries and environmental organizations here and abroad.
Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to continue fighting the move in collaboration with international environmental bodies, such as Greenpeace and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Even if the foreign ministry is showing gestures not to link the issue with the intensifying trade row between the two countries, chances are Seoul's continuous denouncement of the plan will help Japan return to the dialogue table with South Korea to settle the trade dispute.
Experts argue Seoul needs to exert caution before taking specific actions against Japan's plan to deal with the water, as any rash acts will only result in escalating the two countries' already-emotional conflict.
"First and foremost, South Korea should never react sensitively against the move, and step up pressure with specific figures by calculating estimated damage following the water discharges, or citing other datasets to back up its argument," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.
Without such objective figures, Japan will only regard Seoul's possibly upcoming action plans as nothing more than a "political attack" in the ongoing trade scuffle, according to Park. Such a scenario will only further aggravate their worsening ties, he said.
Other options also include partnerships with international organizations such as Greenpeace, as Japan is unlikely to take South Korea's unilateral pressure seriously, according to him.
In July, Seoul delivered its concerns over the Japanese plan during an environmental partnership meeting when Tokyo said details on when and how to handle the contaminated water were not fixed. During the meeting, the Japanese government also reiterated its position that it would continue to explain specific disposal plans to the international community upon making a decision, according to Seoul's foreign ministry.
An official from the ministry said the government would continue to raise global awareness of the issue.
"In particular, relevant government organizations, including the foreign ministry, plans to raise the issue during the annual IAEA General Conference in September in Austria's capital city of Vienna," a foreign ministry official said.
In November, South Korea will also step up its diplomatic pressure against Japan, urging the country to drop its plan to discharge the water into the sea, during a high-level meeting in China on nuclear energy, according to the ministry.
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government has repeatedly promoted the city of Fukushima as safe enough for tourists and claimed seafood from the nearby waters is safe for consumption.
Against the same backdrop, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also pushing for a plan to hold some sporting events in the city during the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
According to Japanese media reports, the Abe administration is considering supplying Fukushima's agricultural and marine products to athletes during the Olympics.
For this reason, Seoul's pressure on the Fukushima water issue is expected to deal a blow to Abe, as the controversy keeps tarnishing the image of the upcoming Olympics even before its beginning, critics said.
"By continuously taking issue with the contaminated water disposal, Seoul can press Tokyo to some extent amid their deteriorating relations," Park said.
On Wednesday, Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, claimed during a press conference in Seoul that if Japan decides to dump the contaminated water into the sea, radiation could reach the East Sea in less than a year.
He urged the South Korean government to actively demand the Abe administration stop such a plan.
Under a United Nations agreement, South Korea holds the legal right to make the demand to Japan, according to him. The environmental expert also advised Seoul to keep raising its voice at international seminars to guarantee the safety of the Korean people.