Tension reached a new high Friday after South Korean nuclear power operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power held an impromptu board meeting Friday and voted to temporarily suspend the construction of new nuclear power plants against vehement opposition from the labor union and some nearby residents.
In an emergency meeting called at a nearby hotel instead of the company headquarters in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, 12 members of the board out of 13 voted in favor of the suspension.
The construction of Shin-Kori No. 5 and 6 nuclear power reactors in Ulsan will thus be suspended for three months as soon as a public committee is launched to discuss future steps.
The temporarily suspension, as part of the Moon Jae-in administration’s drive to go nuclear energy-free, will be put to further discussion at a nine-person committee arranged by the government to gauge public opinion on whether to completely halt nuclear power plant construction.
The construction processing rate as of May stood at 28.8 percent, according to the KHNP.
Some 100 billion won ($87 million) of additional maintenance cost is expected to be caused during the suspension.
Calling the KHNP board’s meeting a guerrilla-like offense, the union’s leader Kim Byeong-gi held a press conference and said it would hold an emergency committee immediately to discuss future actions. The union has also threatened to sue the board for breach of duty.
Union members and local citizens have been criticizing the government’s decision to halt the construction, saying it would rob them of their jobs without due legal grounds that would also lead to inevitable changes to the financial compensation that the residents were scheduled to receive for allowing the construction of reactors close to their homes.
The KHNP initially planned to hold the meeting on Thursday but failed to convene as at least six of the board members were blocked from entering the company headquarters by the protesters.
Upon Moon’s pledge, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy last month had sent a document asking the KHNP to cooperate with the government to suspend the on-going constructions of nuclear power plants, urging the KHNP to speed up making a decision through its board meeting.
The construction consortium of Samsung Construction & Trading, Hanwha Engineering & Construction and Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction have remained on a wait and see mode on such issues as how the KHNP would compensate financial losses to be caused from the temporary stop.
Samsung C&T, which owns 51 percent stake in the consortium, said that the company would wait for an official document that the KHNP said it would send and discuss on compensation measures later on. It is a little early to talk about filing a suit since the final call has not been made, the company’s spokesperson added.
If the construction is completely scrapped, financial damage is to worth some 12 trillion won, according to the Energy Ministry’s data.
The KHNP is currently also reviewing legal possibilities that the representative shareholders of Kepco could submit lawsuits against the Kepco, who is the sole shareholder of the KHNP, over possible indirect damages caused by the suspension decision.
Meanwhile, including the suspension of Shin-kori, the Korean government, to date, has halted a total of six new nuclear power plants construction in the nation.
Moon has pledged to work on expanding generating facilities using renewable sources to account for 20 percent of the power needed by the country by 2030 from the current 5 percent.
By Shim Woo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)