The government is under fire for failing to assess the damage properly at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant amid mounting fears over the spread of radioactivity from the plant, while Japan is accused of failing to provide the necessary information.
More than 20 days since the earthquake that sparked the nuclear disaster, Seoul, unlike the U.S. and France, has been unable to send a single nuclear expert to Japan or receive regular updates from Japan about the situation.
That has led to charges that Japan is being irresponsible about the risks faced by its closest neighbor. Although their levels are deemed to be harmless to humans, radioactive xenon, iodine and cesium have been detected in eight locations across the country. Fears are spreading that marine life in waters surrounding Korea may be affected by radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant that seeps into the ocean and is carried over by the currents.
A government official said the dispatch of nuclear experts to Japan is "under discussion" through the Korean Embassy in Tokyo. Sohn Jae-young, head of the nuclear power department at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said, "The Foreign Ministry is discussing the possibility of sending experts to deal with the nuclear accident."
Following the accident in Japan, the government formed a joint task force of officials from various ministries to conduct safety inspections on all nuclear power plants in Korea. They are checking whether power stations are resistant to an earthquake or other disasters. But only one government agency, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, has been assessing the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
And the institute has been unable to get up-to-date information. It is checking whether radioactive materials from Japan are blowing over into Korea but is apparently relying on private Japanese contacts of Korean scientists to get unofficial information. "The accident at the Fukushima plant would provide invaluable data for us to use in building nuclear plants in the future, but we are having to rely a lot on the media," said one government official.
A senior official at the Prime Minister's Office said, "Japan has a lot of pride and it's proving very difficult to convince them to accept help from our experts."
But Tokyo has accepted the help of U.S. and French nuclear experts and is not allowing Korean experts to enter. "Japan may feel that Korean nuclear experts will not be any help in containing the accident," a Foreign Ministry official said. "But it is Japan's duty to offer ample information to a neighboring country that could be seriously affected by the nuclear accident."