(ATTN: UPDATES with team's arrival in Japan; ADDS comments in last 3 paras; CHANGES headline)
INCHEON, May 21 (Yonhap) -- A team of South Korean experts arrived in Japan on Sunday for an on-site inspection ahead of the planned release of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
The inspection -- the first independent one by South Korean experts -- is a follow-up to the summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul earlier this month. The two leaders also met in Hiroshima earlier in the day, their third meeting in two months as bilateral relations thaw.
Nuclear Safety and Security Commission Chairperson Yoo Guk-hee, who is leading the 21-member team, said easing safety concerns of the South Korean public is part of his team's job description.
"If we take a scientific approach to explain what we saw and what we need to confirm further, then I think people will have more trust in us," Yoo told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.
"We have experts with decades of experience in safety regulations in radiation and nuclear power plant facilities. They are extremely knowledgeable in their areas of expertise," he added.
The team -- which includes 19 other experts in the nuclear reactor and radiation sectors and one expert in radiation in the marine environment -- will review the safety of the discharging process and check Tokyo's capability in analyzing radioactive materials.
They are due back home Friday.
The South Korean officials will first meet with representatives from relevant authorities in Japan on Monday, including the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, as well as the industry ministry and the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Those meetings will be followed by an inspection of the plant on Tuesday and Wednesday. Based on their visits, the South Korean team will have in-depth discussions and Q&A sessions with Japanese officials Thursday.
During the examination, the delegation will have an opportunity to examine the plant's custom purification system, known as ALPS, and assess the results of the water purification process through ALPS.
"Since we have a team of the finest experts, we will check on the safety of the process based on scientific foundation and standards, without tilting in any particular direction," Yoo said. "We are thoroughly prepared, and we will leave no stone unturned."
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged the Fukushima plant's cooling systems, resulting in the release of a large amount of radiation.
The plant currently stores over 1.3 million tons of water treated by ALPS. The water release is set to begin between spring and summer, and will take decades to complete, in what Japanese officials claim is an unavoidable step in the decommissioning process.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is conducting a separate inspection. The agency has already released five reports and is scheduled to publish its final report on the multiyear safety review in late June.
Yoo explained that a South Korean expert has been participating in the IAEA inspection and that the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety has collected three samples from the Fukushima plant.
After arriving in Japan, Yoo said his team will be prepared to discuss problems with Japanese officials as they arise.
"We have scientific standards, and we will inspect and examine facilities based on those standards," Yoo told reporters at Narita International Airport, just east of Tokyo. "And if we identify problems during the process, we will absolutely put them on the table. We will look to reach a comprehensive conclusion."
When asked whether the length of his team's visit was too short, Yoo responded: "We have been reviewing data since August 2021. We have enough information on our hand, and we will ask for more as we see fit."
(Asiad) S. Korea blank China to reach men's football semifinals
(LEAD) (Asiad) S. Korea takes 2 silvers in roller skating relays
N. Korea slams IAEA's adoption of resolution on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program
(Asiad) No time to celebrate for S. Korean goal scorer after win over China in men's football quarters
S. Korea says N. Korea will never be recognized as nuclear-weapon state
(News Focus) Travis King's release an opportunity for rapprochement in U.S.-N. Korea ties?
DP averts crisis following court's rejection of Lee's arrest; focus shifts to unity
5 years after signing, future of inter-Korean military accord unclear
In desperation, N. Korea, Russia turn to one another for mutual assistance rivaling U.S.-S. Korea cooperation
Yoon seeks to carve out bigger role for S. Korea in Indo-Pacific, world