Seoul Proposes Artificial Rain Project with Beijing to Reduce Air Pollution
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has proposed a joint project with China to use artificial rain to combat severe air pollution across South Korea, where recent sharp increases has caused alarm among citizens and the government. In recent years, Seoul has been struggling to tackle the rise in air pollution that experts have directly linked to both China's massively growing industrial activity and carbon dioxide emissions from South Korean cars.
Less-than-average rainfall, coupled with air stagnation, have resulted in worsening air quality. Air quality is often measured by the concentration of dangerous microscopic particulate matter, specifically fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM2.5), in the air at any given time.
Over the past five days, fine dust levels have hit new highs, reaching quantities four times higher than what the World Health Organization deems healthy. On the afternoon of Mar. 6, 2019, the fine dust concentration level in Seoul hit 136 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the National Institute of Environmental Research, which defines any level above 75 micrograms as “very bad.”
This acute spike in air pollution has prompted the public to wear face masks on their commute under thick gray skies that have drawn comparison by online users and netizens to scenes from the 2008 Disney-Pixar movie WALL-E.
In a press briefing delivered by South Korean Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae on Mar. 7, Cho acknowledged the “fine dust that enters Korea from abroad” and stated that the government “believe[s] artificial rain will be effective in reducing fine particles in the air,” with weather conditions suggesting that it would be “better to conduct an artificial rain experiment over the Yellow Sea, rather than in inland areas.”
That same day, Moon also instructed government officials to accelerate the retirement of old coal-burning power plants. He also called for inter-agency efforts to reduce the residual damage that the power plants have caused, including the start of installation of high-capacity air purifiers in daycare centers and schools around South Korea.
Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom stated that the President, during a meeting with officials of his government, had claimed that China was "much more advanced" than South Korea in rain-making technologies and expressed hope that creating rain over waters between the countries would help mitigate the air pollution for both parties involved .
"China has claimed that South Korea's dust flies toward Shanghai, so creating artificial rain over the Yellow Sea would help the Chinese side too," Mr. Kim quoted Moon as saying during the meeting. President Moon also proposed that South Korea and China develop a joint system for issuing air pollution alerts, Mr. Kim said.
In a meeting with a top Chinese diplomat last year, President Moon contended that China was at least partially to blame for South Korea’s pollution problem, holding them responsible and encouraging Beijing’s cooperation in efforts to improve air quality.
When confronted about Moon's proposal, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang agreed that cooperation would be ideal but downplayed the claim that China is a major source of the air pollution. Noting that fine dust readings have been higher in Seoul than in Beijing recently, Lu expressed his “wonder if the South Korean side has any basis that its smog is from China” before stating that “all countries realize that the cause is very complicated."
South Korean ruling and opposition parties held an emergency meeting on Mar. 7, at which they agreed to swiftly pass bills to cope with the problem. Meanwhile, on Mar. 8, the South Korean Environment Ministry’s National Institute of Environmental Research announced a new observation mission to trace the origin of the fine dust choking most of South Korea. In January, South Korea's weather agency attempted cloud-seeding — via utilizing an aircraft to release chemicals into clouds over national seas to induce rain — but failed to record any significant increase in rainfall.