South Korea’s Yoon walking a political tightrope amid Japan’s Fukushima water release plans
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has been navigating an increasingly challenging political world lately as he tries to calm growing public anger over Japan’s controversial plan to release treated radioactive water from Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific while also attempting to improve diplomatic relations with Tokyo.
Japan has faced opposition to its plan, both at home and abroad – despite recent assurances from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the wastewater is safe after being filtered to remove most isotopes. Much of the water had been used to cool reactors at the now-crippled power plant that was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
According to Yoon Sung-suk, a political-science professor at Chonnam University, the South Korean leader is caught up in a political dilemma between strong public hostility over the release plan and his policy of mending ties with Japan. The issue has worsened into a “political football” between rival parties ahead of next year’s elections, he said.
Need For Deeper Cooperation Amid Threats From Pyongyang
Eight out of 10 people in South Korea oppose Japan’s discharge plan, polls suggest. Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a meeting on Wednesday on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, during which the South Korean president asked to send experts from his country to monitor the planned release, Yoon’s office said.
While expressing respect for the UN nuclear agency’s approval, Yoon requested the dispatch of experts and real-time sharing of monitoring data to verify whether the process was carried out as planned. Kishida pledged to ensure transparent and swift sharing of monitoring information, Japan’s foreign ministry said, adding the release would be constantly reviewed by the IAEA.
According to Yoon’s office, Kishida stressed authorities would immediately halt the discharge of water if its radioactive levels went beyond safety standards. Yoon has been trying to improve relations with Tokyo following years of tensions over historical issues, which bother cooperation between the two key US Asian allies despite major threats from Pyongyang.