Second Strongest Earthquake Rises Safety Concern in South Korea
A 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit the South Korean city of Pohang on Wednesday, making it the second-strongest earthquake in South Korea’s records.
South Korea has relatively little seismic activity. The strongest quake, reaching a 5.8 magnitude, was recorded in September 2016 also near Pohang.
Although no casualties were reported, the quake has left 62 people wounded. Over 1,500 people have been evacuated to facilities.
The saneung, the South Korean national university entrance exam, was also postponed due to the earthquake for the first time in its existence. The exam is of great importance to South Korean high school students, as it determines one’s chances of getting into the nation’s top universities.
The earthquake has put some of South Korea’s infrastructural and safety problems back into question.
In 2014, 300 high school students and teachers were killed on a school trip on the Sewol Ferry. As the captain and crew escaped, the students were told to stay inside the boat as it sunk. The traumatic experience shook South Korea as citizens questioned South Korean leadership, safety regulations, and emergency preparedness.
A student from an all-girl high school in Pohang tweeted after the incident, “Students felt weak tremors then came out into the hallways for evacuation. But the teachers stuffed us back in the classrooms, saying that this was not an earthquake.”
As her tweets grew increasingly viral, the reliability of South Korea’s safety measures and infrastructure quality has started to resurface.
The Korea Meteorological Administration has stressed that seismic activity in South Korea has reached a new phase since the 2016 earthquake and that South Korea is no longer free from earthquake threats.
A 2017 report by the Ministry of Interior and Safety found that only 23 percent of South Korean schools are built to withstand earthquakes.
In addition, many of South Korea’s nuclear power plants are concentrated near Pohang and Gyeongju. Although all of South Korea’s 24 nuclear power plants are built to withstand earthquakes stronger than a 6.5 magnitude, many are concentrated in densely populated areas. Ever since Japan’s disastrous 9.0 magnitude earthquake in 2011, South Korea’s nuclear power plants have been heavily scrutinized by the public and has caused awareness about nuclear safety.