The fate of the Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6, now under construction, will be determined by a civic panel in a three month-long public debate process. The government has decided to temporarily halt the construction of the ongoing nuclear power units and give the final say on the resumption of the construction to results of a public consultation process. It’s the first time the construction of a nuclear power unit has been suspended since the nation began to build nuclear units in 1971.
The Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6 broke ground in June 2016. The progress of the project now stands at 28.8 percent, with 1.6 trillion won in construction costs being already poured in. The government convened a cabinet meeting on June 17 and decided to leave the issue of halting the nuclear power units to a public debate committee consisting of neutral figures other than officials with the energy sector. A civic panel will be formed to gather public views to determine the final say on the fate of the units.
The public debate period is set at a maximum of three months. Minister Hong Nam-ki for the Office of Government Policy Coordination & Prime Minister’s Secretariat said cases of advanced countries showed it is expected to take some three months, but the period will be shortened as much as possible.
In accordance with President Moon Jae-in’s public campaign pledge to wane the nation off nuclear power, he promised to halt the construction of the Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6. Earlier, at a ceremony to mark the permanent stoppage of the Kori Nuclear Power Unit on June 19, President Moon said a social consensus would be reached at the earliest possible date. The government’s latest decision is designed to flesh out on President Moon’s earlier remarks.
The government said it plans to establish a public debate committee consisting of less than 10 figures with high esteem and reliability. The committee is an independent body designed to decide how to reflect public views. Following TV debates and after a civic panel is given opportunities to grab ample information on the issue, the panel will have the final say on the fate of the nuclear power units. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is to wrap up the issues in consideration of legal affairs based on the panel’s decision. Some critics have labelled as “irresponsible” the government’s decision to leave the fate of nuclear power units in the hands of the general public rather than with power demand-supply experts.
Minister Hong of the OTC said reaching a social consensus via a public debate process is desirable, but some construction company officials suspected that the government might induce its conclusion to the suspension of the nuclear power units. They said the halt of the construction is desirable only after a final decision is made, but the government is apparently seeking to find procedural pretext after a given decision is made.
Some experts maintained that coming to such a crucial decision within three months is irrational. Switzerland and Germany underwent over 30-year public debate process before coming to the conclusion to phase out their dependence on nuclear power. In Korea, a public debate committee staged a 20 month-long pro- and con-debate to reach a final compromise on the selection of a site for the treatment of spent nuclear fuel, but the government has not yet discussed on the matter. Prof. Kim Chang-sup of Gacheon University said the decision-making on the energy industry with long-term, heavy investments should be done in a prudential fashion, but not hurriedly.
The government’s decision to temporarily halt construction on Shin Kori Nuclear Power Units 5 & 6 received mixed reactions. Environment organizations welcomed the decision as reasonable and natural. A body of residents in Seosang-myon, Ulju-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, denounced the decision, calling it “an absurd thing.” An anti-nuclear civic body in Ulsan said it was overdue, and such things as conditions of the public debate committee, should be discussed with civic communities to ensure a transparent and fair process.
Lee Sang-dae, head of a residents’ body in Seosaeng-myon said, “I cannot understand what legal foundation the halt of the construction and yet more public debate is based on.” Lee added that he would seek to find solutions through dialogue with the government on the issue, which is closely related to their livelihoods.
A professor at a university energy department said the issue may be such a thing to be reconsidered from the scratch in the case of the changing of the government. Prof. Joo Han-kyu of Seoul National University Nucleonics Department said this public debate process should be an occasion to ask people’s views on the government’s policies of waning its dependence on nuclear power. A public consensus needs to be agreed through a public debate process with wider suggestions and discussions, he added.