(News Focus) S. Korea, Japan apparently split over nature of Seoul's Fukushima inspection mission
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Seoul and Tokyo appear to be at odds over the nature of an upcoming inspection mission by South Korea on Japan's plan to release radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
During a summit meeting in Seoul on Sunday, President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to allow a group of South Korean experts to visit the plant, as South Koreans remain highly concerned about Tokyo's water release plan.
Kishida said he is well aware of South Koreans' concerns over the planned water release this summer but vowed to do his best as Japan's prime minister to ensure it causes no harm to the health of both nations' peoples.
According to Seoul's foreign ministry, the government plans to dispatch the team later this month.
On the surface, the decision could be seen as a goodwill gesture offered by Japan amid the warming of relations between the neighbors since the launch of the Yoon administration last year. But a closer observation reveals an apparent divide between the countries over the exact nature of the mission.
In a report submitted to the National Assembly on Tuesday, the Seoul ministry said the inspection will allow South Korea an "opportunity to conduct a multi-layered review and evaluation" independently of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) monitoring team.
According to ministry officials, the team will focus on examining Japan's water release plan and conduct a scientific evaluation to verify Japan's water treatment capacity that it claims to possess. It will also try to confirm the credibility of Japanese data on the contaminated water
Japanese authorities have offered a different view.
Speaking at a press briefing, Japanese Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said during a press conference that the inspection will allow South Korea to "help deepen the understanding" about the safety of the release.
Nishimura noted the purpose of the inspection is "not to evaluate or certify the safety of treated water," suggesting the scope and authority of the inspection team's activity will be restricted.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also told reporters in Tokyo that he hopes for the "deepening of South Korea's understanding" on the safety of the water release plan through the inspection and related bilateral consultations.
Critics of the decision have voiced concerns that the two-day inspection, depending on the outcome, could end up as a mere formality and provide Japan with political leverage to rationalize its water release plan.
"It appears the government is trying to be a volunteer helper for Japan's plan to dump contaminated water from the nuclear power plant into the ocean," Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the head of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, said.
Responding to such arguments, First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin told lawmakers Tuesday the inspection team will "engage in activities that are close to actual verification."
He stressed that the government will take necessary measures, such as demanding of additional data or explanations, depending on the team's findings.
Another Seoul official assured that the government's plan isn't merely to visit and observe the Fukushima facility. "We will review whether Japan has the water treatment capacity (it claims to have) based on a scientific and objective inspection."
A South Korean presidential official also told Yonhap News Agency that while the IAEA is responsible for testing the safety of the water, there needs to be additional verification on whether the treatment facility at the plant is working properly.
Since Japan first announced its plan to release contaminated water from the Fukushima power plant, South Korea has called for Japan to come up with responsible measures to ensure the safety of the disposal, and that it conforms to international laws and standards.
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