Mt. Baekdu diplomacy

April 9, 2011 8:00 AM

The two Koreas have agreed to hold their second round of talks to discuss the possibility of a volcanic eruption of Mt. Baekdu and how to prevent the worst case scenario. Most still argue that the possibility of an eruption is extremely slim, but having just one expert argue that the possibility exists (that it will occur within 4-5 years) and that the effect will be devastating and far-reaching is enough to get people worried, especially with the recent memory of Iceland’s volcanic eruption and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan.

Kim Jong Il’s love for the majestic Mt. Baekdu is evident – he has gone so far as to create a fake legend that he was born atop Mt. Baekdu, when in reality, he was born in a small Russian village. It just wouldn’t be right if his ‘sacred birthplace’ were to volcanically erupt and cause a crisis of great magnitude.

Then why is South Korea concerned about a remote mountain on the northern borders of North Korea?

South Korea’s National Anthem actually starts off with the lyric, “Until the day when the waters of the East Sea run dry and Mt. Baekdu is worn away, God protect and preserve our nation.” Yes, the lyrics were written before the Korean War, but 50 million South Koreans still sing these lyrics and have some emotional attachment to this mountain despite never having been there. Pragmatic reasons aside, Mt. Baekdu happens to be one of the most sacred mountains for both North and South Korea.

[Cheonji (translated heaven lake) atop Mt. Baekdu]

At least this got the two Koreas to cooperate with each other on something. But what makes the volcanic eruption scenario a lot scarier is the fact that China decided to continue with its plan to build four new nuclear plants in the vicinity of Mt. Baekdu [in Korean] despite what has been happening at the Fukushima nuclear plant since the devastating earthquake in Japan. Not to be a scaremonger, but the map below of nuclear plants operating (red), being built (yellow) and planned to be built (blue) looks like an overdose of nuclear plants – and having four near a potentially volcanic mountain is extra worrisome, even assuming that these nuclear plants will have top-notch safety guards beyond anything built in the technologically more advanced Japan. Kim Jong Il might lose some sleep over this.

[Source: Dong A Ilbo]

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