The state-run Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute has punished an expert who wrote a report saying the release of contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant will have only a miniscule impact on Korea. The expert, identified only by his surname Hwang, worked for the Korean Nuclear Society and wrote a report in August last year which concluded that even if Japan releases all of the contaminated water stored in the destroyed power plant compound over a one-year period without dilution, it would only lead to a radiation exposure dose of just one-three hundred millionth of the annual limit allowed per person.

After the report was published in April this year, KAERI accused Hwang of writing it without the authorization of his director and reprimanded him. Hwang published a similar report in a scholarly journal in September last year along with his colleagues, but the contribution was withdrawn a month later for unspecified reasons.

Contaminated water released into the ocean from Fukushima is carried by currents around the Pacific Ocean before arriving in Korea, and other experts have pointed out that the impact would be minimal. The fact that Japan must handle the release of the contaminated water in a transparent manner is one thing and scientific studies of its impact are another. The Korean Nuclear Society revealed the crux of the report in April and called on the Japanese government to allow Korean nuclear experts to take part in the monitoring of the released water. But the Korean government must have played a role if Hwang was reprimanded anyway.

The previous head of KAERI stepped down in November 2018 with 16 months left in his tenure. There are rumors that he irked government officials by presenting a position at the National Assembly that countered President Moon Jae-in’s nuclear phaseout policy. How can scientists be pressured to hide facts that may not be in line with the government’s view? How can a country that suppresses science possibly prosper?

The mad cow-disease panic that gripped Korea years ago was triggered by similar gross exaggeration of scientific data to fit political aims. Now the same thing is happening with Korea’s nuclear power industry. The same political forces that stoked the BSE panic are in power now. Science should transcend politics, and the only rebuttal should be hard data. These fanatics who are patting themselves on the back because Korea was invited to peep into the meeting rooms of the G7 last week must remember that it was science and technology that raised the country’s status in the world, not bigotry.

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