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Is it right for a public panel to determine the halt of nuke plants?

Is it right for a public panel to determine the halt of nuke plants?

Posted July. 25, 2017 07:25,   

Updated July. 25, 2017 07:54


A public discussion panel to determine whether to halt the construction of Shin Gori Nuclear Power Plants 5 and 6 forever or whether to resume construction was officially inaugurated on Monday. Minister Hong Nam-ki at the Office of Policy Coordination under the Prime Minister’s Office announced Kim Ji-hyeong (lawyer and former Supreme Court justice) and eight members of the public discussion panel on Shin Gori Plants 5 and 6, saying, “The panel will ensure fairness, neutrality, objectivity and transparency, and operate to come up with conclusion by October 21, or three months from the inauguration, and accept the conclusion.”


The roles of the panel is not to decide whether to halt the construction of Shin Gori Nuclear Plants 5 and 6, but to conduct various public surveys, hold public hearings and forums, and form and operate a civilian jury that will make the final decision. The panel has been formed in line with President Moon Jae-in’s election pledge and Cabinet decision to back up the pledge, but there is controversy over whether it is the right thing to do to determine the major national issue of halting construction of nuclear plants through public discussions. Ground was broken to construct Shin Gori Plants 5 and 6 in 2016 in line with the 2008 Fourth Basic Plan on Electricity Supply with the aim of completing them in 2021 and 2022, respectively.


The construction of the plants was approved by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission comprising experts after the commission reviewed their safety for 30 months, and reflected measures to address even nuclear plant safety concerns that had been raised following the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan. The move requiring a civilian jury to understand the project to build the plants that thus started and to decide whether to halt construction or not within a period of less than three months is no different from a popularity vote. Germany underwent a public discussion process for 25 years before deciding to shut down its nuclear plants. Switzerland also decided on the end of the nuclear era through national referenda five times since 1984.


In order to form the public discussion panel to review whether to halt nuclear plant construction, which lacks legal and procedural grounds, the Korean government printed the Prime Minister’s executive order in the government register on July 17, and has announced the list of panel members a week later. When compared with the process that took one year in collecting public opinions from all walks of life in October 2013 before the formation of a public discussion panel on the use of spent nuclear fuel, the incumbent government’s move is apparently a measure taken too hastily at best.


“Now is the best timing to embrace the shift of global energy paradigm towards the end of nuclear plants, the end of coal, and expansion of renewable energy, and join this trend," Trade, Commerce and Energy Minister Paik Un-kyu said in his inaugural speech on Monday. The fact he defined a nuclear-free era as shift of global energy paradigm even though it is sought by only several countries is controversial, and the fact the minister in charge of the issue made such remarks ahead of the inauguration of the public discussion panel also runs counter to the principle of fairness and neutrality. The panel should come up with an apparatus to lead public opinions in a transparent manner, while following the basic principle of understanding and communications. Otherwise, the panel may end up being called a "puppet of the government" that hided itself behind the pretext of public discussions in the future.