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Radiation leaks in Japan unlikely to affect S. Korea: experts
SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- Radioactive materials that have leaked from a quake-destroyed Japanese nuclear plant are unlikely to affect South Korea as seasonal winds in the region continue to disperse the harmful materials to the east or over the Pacific, nuclear experts here said Thursday.

   Fears over possible radiation contamination are growing in South Korea, the country closest to Japan, after the latter's nuclear power plants were damaged by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week. Japan has been working desperately to avoid a meltdown.

Passengers arriving from Japan pass through radiation detection gates at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on March 17. (Yonhap)

Still, South Korean government officials and experts have said the likelihood of contamination by radiation leaked from Japan's Fukushima plant, some 1,000 kilometers east of the Korean Peninsula, is slim because the current winds are westerlies.

   "Given the current direction of winds and weather forecasts, the westerlies are expected to continue to blow," said Lee Seok-ho, senior official at the state-run Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety.

Government researchers gauge radiation levels in Suwon, south of Seoul, on March 17. (Yonhap)

"For the time being, the direction of winds is unlikely to change," Lee said in a conference on the safety of nuclear plants in South Korea held in the wake of Japan's escalating nuclear crisis.

   However, Lee warned that South Korea could be affected by radioactive materials from Japan if the winds change.

   "We continue to closely monitor radiation levels and will take an emergency countermeasures if a situation arises," Lee said.

Seoul hosts a seminar on the safety of nuclear power plants on March 17. (Yonhap)

Another expert also played down the risk of radiation leaks.

   Lee Eun-cheol, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University, said at the conference, "The radiation level (at the Fukushima plant) is relatively low and is being dispersed by winds for now. I think the severity of radiation leaks is not to a degree that poses a risk to our people."

   "So, there is no need to wear masks," the professor said.

   South Korean officials monitoring for possible radiation from Japan said they had not detected any abnormal levels so far.

   But airport officials in the Seoul area began screening travelers from Japan for radiation on Thursday.

   Separately, South Korean police have launched a crackdown on people who spread unfounded rumors that radiation would soon affect the Korean Peninsula.

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