There are two big questions about President Moon Jae-in’s push for ceasing nuclear power: one is whether his nuclear-free energy policy is good for the nation or not and the other is about the heavy-handed way he handles the issue.
As you may know, renunciation of nuclear power was one of the liberal president’s election promises. That should not and cannot, however, give Moon -- who only has a mandate for five years -- a free hand in determining a policy shift the effects of which will last long beyond his term.
Moon set his stop-nuclear power crusade into motion June 19 by calling for the suspension of the construction of two nuclear reactors in the southeast of the peninsula. Since then, it has been a hot national issue but the Moon administration has yet to convince people of the rationale behind abandonment of nuclear power.
Most of all, many still wonder why South Korea should do away with nuclear power out of imagined safety concerns, when none of the atomic plants in the country has experience any major trouble.
True, safety cannot be overemphasized when it comes to their operation, but Korea has a proud history of running nuclear power plants safely, and the country is not as vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis as countries like Japan.
The Moon administration’s logic is that any unpredictable disaster like the tsunami that hit the Fukushima power plants could spell catastrophe, and such risks should be nulled in advance.
Then how would it explain the fact that countries like the US, UK and even Japan have decided to continue with nuclear power? Are the leaders and governments of those countries not as concerned about the safety of their people as our president?
Another important point is that administration officials have yet to convince people as to how they would make up for the loss of atomic power, which now accounts for one-third of the nation’s electricity.
They argue that by 2030, Korea would be able to take 20 percent of its electricity from new and renewable energy sources. However, this is too ambitious a projection in light of the nation’s largely unfavorable natural environment for wind and solar power.
Raising reliance on liquefied natural gas is not assuring, either. Korea depends on imports for the whole of LNG, which is not only far more expensive than other energy sources but also vulnerable to the precariousness of global markets and the geopolitical situation.
One more point lacking in the government plans to cease nuclear power is how the country will attain its avowed goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement, which is not an easy task even with the support of nuclear power generation.
All in all, the Moon administration’s push for giving up nuclear power is shrouded in questions and doubts. A bigger problem is that instead of trying to answer questions and clear doubts, the administration is pushing ahead with the plan in a unilateral, high-handed way.
The Moon Cabinet authorized the plan to suspend construction of the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors in Ulsan only 10 days after Moon’s announcement of a nuclear-free Korea. Cabinet members discussed the issue for only 20 minutes before consenting to the proposal to halt construction work for the two reactors.
Then the board of directors of the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power authorized the suspension Friday. The board meeting, which had been thwarted by workers protesting the previous day, moved to a hotel for a closed-door meeting.
Such blitzkrieg tactics should be the least in determining policy so important for the country. Government officials say that now an ad-hoc panel will review the issue for three months and it will ask a “jury of ordinary citizens” to make the final decision on the fate of the Shin-Kori reactors.
But you can easily expect that the panel and jury will only rubber-stamp the president’s proposal, just as the KHNP board did. You would have already wondered whether this is the same administration that put off deployment of the US missile shield system, citing the need to get it through a “legitimate, democratic” process.
Moon said in his inaugural address that under his administration, every process will be fair and every end result will be righteous. He should have said that his energy policy would be an exception.