” More than three years have passed since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, but some South Koreans are still leery over possible radioactive contamination from their neighbor.
Environmental activists and residents of Changwon, a city on South Korea’s southeastern coast, staged a rally Tuesday in front of a steel company to protest its import of scrap steel from Japan through a nearby port of Masan.
The protesters demanded local steel companies stop importing Japanese steel for recycling through seaports that aren’t equipped with radioactive detection devices, such as Masan.
“A case in August, in which imports of scrap steel from Japan were found to contain radioactive material and sent back to Japan clearly shows we’re exposed to a real risk,” said Park Jong-kwon, chairman of the Masan Changwon Jinhae Korea Federation of Environmental Movements.
Mr. Park said his group will continue to demand the government divert such imports to other ports until Masan has a radiation detection system.
Concerns have heightened after the Seoul government in August found some imported scrap metal from Japan bore traces of radiation and ordered the importer to return the items to Japan.
The protest in Changwon followed similar complaints earlier this week by a civic group in another port city of Gunsan, southwest of Seoul, that the country should stop steel imports from Japan.
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said Aug. 11 that it had returned some steel scrap imported from Japan due to radiation contamination, the first returned shipment since Seoul heightened nuclear safety checks in 2012.
The commission said some 20 kilograms of steel scrap out of a total of 20 tons imported from Japan were found to contain a higher-than-allowed level of cesium 137, the same kind of radioactive isotope released into the air during Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011.
A Seoul government official said the possibility of radioactive materials transferred to Korea from Japan is low.
“I can’t say we’re 100% safe from heavy steel imports from Japan. But we’re taking various measures to prevent contaminated material from entering Korea. Chances for a radioactive material to slip into the country undetected are low,” said Nam Jung-kyung, a director at the commission.
The government has asked steel importers to secure written guarantees from Japanese exporters that their steel products are radioactive-free, said Ms. Nam.
Currently, 14 major ports in cities like Incheon and Busan, have radiation detectors and the government aims to set up more equipment at six other ports by the end of 2016, she said.
Korea imported an average of 3 million tons of scrap steel from Japan from 2011 and 2013. About 47% of the imports were through ports without radioactive detectors, according to a commission report submitted to the National Assembly.
One of Korea’s industries hit hardest by Japan’s latest nuclear disaster was seafood as domestic sales of marine products plummeted following leaks of radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011.
Since September last year, the Seoul government has blocked all fishery imports from prefectures surrounding the Fukushima plant. ”