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Hundreds in Seoul protest Japan’s plans to release treated wastewater from Fukushima nuclear plant

Hundreds marched in Seoul on Saturday to demand that Japan scrap plans to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant as the UN nuclear agency's head met with senior officials to discuss food safety concerns.

South Korea has formally endorsed Japan's plans, also approved by the IAEA

Protesters carry flags

Hundreds of people marched in Seoul on Saturday to demand that Japan scrap plans to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant as the United Nations nuclear agency's head met with senior officials to discuss food safety concerns.

The protests came a day after South Korea's government formally endorsed the safety of Japan's plans, saying the contamination levels of water pumped out from the disabled plant would be within acceptable standards and wouldn't meaningfully affect South Korean seas as long as the plant's treatment systems work as designed.

The announcement aligns with the views of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which approved the Japanese discharge plans this week, saying the treated wastewater would meet international safety standards and pose negligible environmental and health impacts.

Braving blistering summer heat and closely watched by police, the protesters walked in long lines through a commercial district in downtown Seoul, holding signs reading,"We denounce the sea disposal of Fukushima's nuclear wastewater!" and, "We oppose with our lives the sea discharge."

The marches were peaceful, and there were no immediate reports of major clashes or injuries.

"Other than discharging the water into the sea, there is an option to store the water on their land and there are other options being suggested," said Han Sang-jin, spokesperson for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose members accounted for many of the marchers.

He said allowing Japan to discharge the water "is like an international crime."

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Saturday's protest provided a tense backdrop to a meeting between Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA's director general, and South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Park Jin.

During their meeting, Park called for the IAEA's "active co-operation" in verifying the safety of the released wastewater more clearly and reassuring the South Korean public, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Earlier in the week, the agency said a two-year review showed Japan's plans for the water release would have a negligible impact on the environment.

South Korea's government has said it respected the IAEA's report and that its own analysis had found the release will not have "any meaningful impact" on its waters.

IAEA director general faces angry protesters

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Friday before his flight to South Korea, Grossi said he was aware of the unease in the country and was willing to communicate more actively with critics, including South Korean opposition politicians, to reduce concerns.

Hours later, he was greeted by dozens of angry protesters at an airport near Seoul. They denounced the IAEA's support of the discharge plans, holding signs reading, "Dismantle IAEA!" and "Fukushima wastewater will definitely lead all humanity to disaster!"

Man speaks using his hands

Grossi is expected to meet on Sunday with lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party, which has harshly criticized the Japanese discharge plans and accused the conservative government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol of putting the nation's health at risk while desperately trying to improve relations with Tokyo.

The safety of Fukushima's wastewater has been a sensitive issue for years between U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, which have been working in recent months to repair relations long strained over wartime historical grievances to address shared concerns, such as the North Korean nuclear threat and China's assertive foreign policy.

South Korea's assessment about the safety of the discharge plan was partially based on observations by a team of government scientists who were allowed to tour the Fukushima plant in May.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the plant's cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation.

Protesters march carrying flags

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the facility, has been storing the treated water in hundreds of tanks that now cover most of the plant and are nearly full.

Japanese officials say the tanks must be removed to make room to build facilities for the plant's decommissioning and to minimize the risk of leaks in the event of another major disaster. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.24 million tonnes in early 2024.

Japan first announced plans to discharge the treated water into the sea in 2018, saying the water would be further diluted by seawater before being released in a carefully controlled process that will take decades to complete.

With files from CBC

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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