(ATTN: UPDATES with more info from para 4)
By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) -- A team of South Korean experts said Wednesday that meaningful progress was achieved in their inspection of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, yet additional analysis is needed for a more accurate conclusion regarding the controversial release of contaminated water.
The 21-member team, headed by Nuclear Safety and Security Commission Chairperson Yoo Geun-hee, returned home Friday after completing their six-day trip to Japan that included the on-site inspection of the plant ahead of its discharge of contaminated water into the ocean scheduled for this summer.
"This inspection has achieved meaningful progress in the scientific and technological review process through on-site inspection and the acquisition of more detailed data. However, we plan to conduct additional analysis and confirmation work for a more accurate conclusion," Yoo told a press briefing.
The goal of the delegation was to review the safety of the entire process of discharge and check Tokyo's capability in analyzing radioactive materials by looking at facilities and holding meetings with officials from the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and other relevant government agencies to secure more data.
During the trip, the team spent two days inspecting the plant's facilities, specifically focusing on the custom purification system, known as ALPS, and the facilities related to the K4 tanks, which are designed to store and measure radioactive substances.
"We have confirmed that major equipment was installed in accordance with the plan," Yoo said.
The delegation observed the ALPS and confirmed the function of emergency isolation valves, designed to immediately halt the discharge of ALPS-treated water into the ocean in the event of an abnormality.
Yoo said that emergency valves were installed to automatically close in case of a sudden power and communication outage, and an additional controller was secured for double-checking.
Furthermore, the scientists were able to secure raw data on the concentration levels of the ALPS system's entrance and exit, allowing them to determine contamination levels before and after treatment and to assess its proper operation, Yoo said.
The public has raised safety and health concerns, including possible long-term exposure to radioactive water and environmental hazards from the planned release of water, which Tokyo claims is treated and safe.
Yoo said the Seoul government plans to additionally confirm Tokyo Electric Power's plan for ocean monitoring and the accuracy of Tokyo's assessment of the effects on radiation levels.
The inspection visit was agreed upon in principle when President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a summit in Seoul earlier this month.
Critics, including opposition parties and environmentalists, have raised questions about the effectiveness of the inspection, arguing that it was merely a formality insufficient to verify the safety of the discharge process.
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.
Currently, the plant stores over 1.3 million tons of water treated by ALPS. The water discharge is set to begin this summer and will take decades to complete, which Japanese officials view as an unavoidable step in the decommissioning process.
A separate inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency is currently being carried out, and a final report on its multiyear safety review is scheduled to be announced in late June.
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