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[Editorial] Tell the truth

Government must not obscure issues regarding plan to build nuclear plant in NK

The government made a document public Monday in an attempt to address suspicions regarding its controversial plan to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea, but those suspicions are hardly subsiding.

Rather, they have been amplified as a result of the government’s reckless denials and oversensitivity.

Choi Jae-sung, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, said the contents of the flash memory stick that President Moon Jae-in delivered to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their summit on April 27, 2018, must never be disclosed. Accusing the opposition party of engaging in “black propaganda,” he effectively threatened the critics to bet all or be quiet.

But we know that government officials destroyed files related to the plan. They were among the files erased ahead of an audit concerning the closure of the Wolsong-1 atomic reactor.

Furthermore, the Moon administration has pushed to shut down all nuclear power plants in South Korea. How can people not wonder why the same government considered building a nuclear plant in the North? To South Koreans, it makes no sense for the government to phase out nuclear energy in the South while seeking to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea even as it threatens the South with nuclear weapons. It is natural that people are asking questions.

People want the government to tell the truth. The more it keeps denying it has anything to hide, the more suspicious people get.

The ministry highlighted the preamble of the document, which says it is for internal review only and does not express an official government position.

But the plans in the document are too detailed to be dismissed as data for internal review. They even look feasible. The report that was disclosed analyzes three choices -- building a nuclear power plant in North Korea, building it in the Demilitarized Zone, or building the Shin Hanul 3 and 4 nuclear reactors in South Korea and then transmitting their power to the North.

Besides, it is unusual to mark “not an official position” on the preamble of a document prepared for officials to see and discuss among themselves.

The document was likely examined closely and reported to higher-ups in the ministry. At the time of its creation, ministry officials would not even have been able to think about building a new nuclear power plant, let alone building one in North Korea, because of Moon’s policy to shut down the South’s nuclear plants. It is hard to imagine that the officials would have drafted such a plan on their own initiative, without instructions from above.

Foreign Minister-nominee Chung Eui-yong, who was the director of the National Security Office at the time of the inter-Korean summit, said the Moon administration had never discussed any such plan with North Korea. He said the USB contained a rough sketch of an inter-Korean energy cooperation proposal.

If the USB in question is not a big deal, why does Cheong Wa Dae refuse to disclose its full contents?

Moon criticized the main opposition party for instigating confrontations, and for engaging in obsolete politics from the old days. Ruling Democratic Party Chairman Lee Nak-yon accused the People Power Party of “crossing the red line.”

Merely speaking as if nothing happened in response to calls to clarify suspicion shows the wrong attitude. People are not casting a suspicious glance at the Moon administration only because they want to know whether it pushed for a nuclear power plant in North Korea. They want to know what was really going on in the administration in connection with the files in question: Why were they created, and why were they deleted in the middle of the night?

Moon pushed a nuclear phaseout policy at home. As a consequence, the South Korean nuclear industry is dying. Yet ministry officials were secretly reviewing plans to build a nuclear power plant in the North to increase the electricity supply there. People cannot but feel confused or even deceived.

Now is not the time to try to obscure the issue. All the government needs to do is tell people exactly what happened.