South Korea pushes for artificial rain project with China to fight particulate pollution

Apartment complexes are seen shrouded by fine dust during a polluted day in Seoul, South Korea on March 6, 2019.
Apartment complexes are seen shrouded by fine dust during a polluted day in Seoul, South Korea on March 6, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korean Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae said on Thursday (March 7) that the government plans to step up its cooperation with China to combat worsening particulate pollution by pushing to jointly enforce dust-reducing measures and conduct an artificial rain experiment.

The ministry said it would push for an artificial rainfall experiment over the sea between the Korean peninsula and China this year, and exchange rain-making technologies with the neighbouring country.

South Korea's first artificial rain experiment in January failed to cause precipitation, and the experiment will be repeated in March, the ministry said. Artificial rain-making involves cloud seeding, the releasing chemicals into clouds to induce precipitation.

"To reduce fine dust that enters Korea from abroad, it is better to conduct an artificial rain experiment over the Yellow Sea, rather than in inland areas, given the weather conditions," Mr Cho said at a press briefing. "We believe artificial rain will be effective in reducing fine particles in the air."

The measures were announced after President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday ordered the government to push for joint action with the Chinese government in fighting particulate pollution.

High levels of ultra-fine dust - particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and known as class one carcinogen - blanketed most parts of Korea for more than a week until Thursday.

In Seoul and the surrounding areas, emergency measures to combat pollution were enforced for seven consecutive days - the longest period ever.

 
 

The government actions, however, failed to effectively reduce levels of ultra-fine dust, triggering criticism that it is only scratching the surface without addressing what Koreans see as the major source of pollutants - China.

China does not deny its part, but says Korea is mainly responsible for the high levels of ultra-fine dust in the country.

Mr Cho said that Seoul and Beijing agreed to stop politicising the issue and will continue to conduct scientific research and collect data on how much China contributes to air pollution here.

When the density of dust pollution is high on the Korean peninsula, a large portion of the fine dust - more than 70 per cent of ultra-fine pollutants in the country - are believed to come from China, according to government estimates.

As for the heavy concentration of PM2.5 in recent days, the state-run agencies said that low circulation of air over the Korean peninsula, a result of climate change, and pollutants from overseas were the main contributors.

Seoul and Beijing have already agreed on a series of measures, including establishing a joint system for issuing fine dust forecast and alerts, at their ministerial meeting in February. Seoul believes the system will increase the accuracy of weather forecasts.

To reduce domestic emissions, the Environment Ministry plans to expand the operation of water sprinklers, shut down two aged coal power plants earlier than scheduled, and implement a pilot project to install air purifying facilities outdoors.

It is also considering toughening the dust-reducing emergency measures in stages as days with high levels of ultra-fine dust continue, which could involve a complete ban on government and public-sector vehicles from streets.