[News Focus] Panel on Shin-Kori reactor fate under fire

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 25, 2017 - 17:39
  • Updated : Jul 25, 2017 - 17:49

The government’s attempt at public deliberation on the fate of the Shin-Kori nuclear reactors is sparking fresh interparty conflict and raising questions on the legality of related plans, indicative of troubles lying ahead for President Moon Jae-in’s plan to go nuclear free.

On Monday, a committee tasked with deliberating the question of scrapping the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors was launched, 10 days after their construction was put on hold.

The temporary suspension, which reflects President Moon’s vision of making South Korea nuclear free, immediately drew fire from a range of groups including conservative parties and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power’s labor union. 

The panel will select a group of citizens who will make the final decision on whether to cancel the construction of the reactors in Ulsan. The final decision is to be made by Oct. 21.

While Moon’s government is set on nuclear-free energy policies, critics say that abandoning the project will incur some 2.6 trillion won ($2.3 billion) in sunk costs and trigger many job losses.

As soon as the committee was launched, opposition parties opened fire, accusing Moon of “imperial presidency” and attacking the committee for lacking legal grounds.

“The party’s legal team is reviewing the matter, and (if) there is clear violation of the law (in the committee’s formation), legal steps will be taken,” Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Rep. Chung Woo-taik said Tuesday.

Liberty Korea Party policy chief Rep. Lee Hyun-jae echoed the view, saying that the committee lacked legitimacy.

“(The committee) is an arbitrary civilian organization for carrying out the president’s imperialistic orders,” Lee said.

“The president has already declared that more reactors could be shut down by 2030, it is worrisome whether this organization can make an unbiased and fair decision.”

Kim Moon-soo, the outspoken former Gyeonggi Province governor of the Liberty Korea Party, also chimed in, accusing the government of making groundless decisions and of mob justice.

“The committee is a kangaroo court that upholds the will of the candlelight emperor,” Kim wrote on his social media account, referring to the president.

Kim went on to accuse Moon of violating government finance and nuclear safety laws by halting construction approved by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission after 38 months of deliberation.

The minor opposition People’s Party appears to be siding with the conservatives on the issue, echoing the main opposition’s views.

“Halting the construction of nuclear reactors that are 29.8 percent complete at a cost of 1.6 trillion won is a very important matter,” Rep. Son Kum-ju, who heads the party’s committee on Moon’s nuclear-free policy.

“It is not a matter that can be covered up with gimmicks such as a committee that lacks legal grounds, and citizen jurors.”

Saying that the committee lacked expertise as well as legal grounds and fails to represent Korean society, Son accused the government of using the committee as a scapegoat.

The public, which has shown overwhelming support for Moon and a number of his policies, is equally divided on the issue. A Gallup Korea poll conducted on July 14 showed that 41 percent of the public support scrapping the two Shin-Kori reactors, while 37 percent think that the construction should be resumed. The margin of error in the poll is 3.1 percent.

The committee has also been attacked for lacking expertise in the field of nuclear energy.

The committee is headed by Kim Ji-hyung, a former Supreme Court justice, and has eight members, two each from four categories: humanities and society; science and technology; survey and statistics; and conflict management.

However, neither of the two science and technology members are experts in nuclear energy. The two scientists on the committee are Yu Tae-kyung, a chemical engineering professor at Kyung Hee University, and physics professor Lee Sung-jay of the Korea Institute for Advanced Study.

By Choi He-suk (