The way the government is determining the fate of two nuclear reactors whose construction has been halted temporarily is as problematic as its policy to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear power.
The government and a panel tasked with considering the issue have been ping-ponging over who should have the final say. Under pressure from the government, the panel eventually said it would make the call, but this then raised skepticism about its independence.
The latest developments show that the Moon Jae-in administration, which has declared it will phase out nuclear power, is only trying to give its decision legitimacy in the name of public consensus.
To be sure, it was preposterous for the government to start a three-month public deliberation process on the fate of the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors after temporarily suspending their construction through a decision by the rubber-stamp board of the state-run nuclear plants operator.
Gathering public opinion should have preceded any such decision.
The public deliberation process itself is questionable in many respects. The nine-member panel named by the president does not have anyone with experience or expertise in nuclear power and energy.
Government officials initially said that the panel would select a jury whose members would make a final decision on whether to cease construction of the two reactors. The government would then go with whatever decision it makes.
However, the proposal drew criticism, as it meant the government was leaving such an important policy decision to a group of citizens, most of whom have no knowledge and expertise on the issue they were entrusted to deliberate. There were also questions about the legal basis of the panel and the jury.
Confusion arose when the panel contradicted the government’s plan. It spokesman said that the panel would not select a jury but would hold a first-round opinion survey of 20,000 people and conduct the deliberation process after picking 350 people.
In addition, the spokesperson said that neither the panel nor the 350 participants in the second-round deliberation process would make the final decision. He said that the panel should only provide information about public opinion gathered through the deliberation process and that responsibility for the final decision should rest with the government and the National Assembly.
It seems that the panel members have become mindful of the disputes over what has developed into a major national issue. They may well have become wary of their own legal responsibility.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt which side sounds more sensible. However, Cheong Wa Dae has reiterated its position that the panel should make a decision and the government would follow whatever decision it makes. In short, it does not want to take responsibility for the decision.
In response, the panel’s chairman issued a press statement agreeing with the position of Cheong Wa Dae -- the panel will say yes or no over the suspension of the reactors’ construction.
This apparent about-face raises questions about the panel’s independence.
Whatever decision is made by whoever will split the nation. Therefore, the decision-making process should be transparent, democratic, legitimate and also free from disputes.
Few would agree that what the government has been doing and saying will be able to achieve bona-fide public consensus.
It is never too late to address problems with a wrong policy. Both the government and the panel should go back to the starting line and work out a truly independent, transparent and legitimate mechanism to determine the future of nuclear power generation and the long-term energy policy for the country. It is needless to say that the National Assembly should be deeply involved in the process.