South Korea will tighten its environmental and safety inspections for recycling waste imported from Japan, the government said Friday, in an apparent attempt to counter Japan’s recent trade restrictions on Korea.
The Ministry of Environment said it would conduct radioactive and heavy metals tests on battery, tire and plastic waste imported from Japan into Korea once a month, instead of the current quarterly inspection.
Announcing the decision, the ministry cited public concerns about radioactive contamination of imported wastes from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power complex hit by a tsunami and the constant increase in imports of Japanese waste into Korea.
The move follows the ministry’s Aug. 8 decision to toughen inspections of Japanese coal ash imports amid the neighbors’ worsening relations over the issue of Koreans forced into labor during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Last year, Korea imported 2.54 million metric tons of industrial waste, according to government data. The majority of last year’s waste imports was coal ash at 1.27 million tons (50 percent), followed by 470,000 tons of waste batteries (18.5 percent), 240,000 tons of waste tires (9.5 percent) and 170,000 tons of waste plastics (6.6 percent).
Of them, 2.9 percent of waste tire imports, 39.7 percent of plastic waste and 14.8 percent of waste batteries were from Japan. Ninty-nine perecnt of coal ash imports were from Japan, according to the data.
Radioactive tests are only mandatory on waste imports from Japan and Russia.
Bilateral relations are at an all-time low after Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced into labor. In an apparent retaliatory action, Japan tightened restrictions on exports to Korea of three key materials necessary for the production of memory chips and displays, and removed Korea from its whitelist of trusted trading partners.