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[Op-Ed] Memories of Buan

Posted January. 11, 2010 08:16,   


In 2003, environmental groups across Korea rallied in Buan County, North Jeolla Province, to protest the government’s plan to build a medium- to low-level nuclear waste disposal site on an island off the west coast. The group even scared Buan residents by telling female high school students the lie that they would give birth to deformed babies because of the waste site. The then head of the county, Kim Jong-kyu, who agreed to accept the waste facilities to promote the county’s development, was lynched by his political opponents. The plan was eventually scrapped.

Six years later, Korea won a contract worth 40 billion U.S. dollars to build four nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates. This was a coup by the world’s sixth-largest producer of nuclear plants along with the ability to build and operate top-quality reactors. Under President Lee Myung-bak’s instruction, the government designated Dec. 27, the date of the contract’s signing, as “Nuclear Power Day.” The government aims to build more than 10 nuclear power plants also in China, which will likely be the world’s biggest market for such plants. Korea will honor those who helped land the UAE contract and announce a national vision for nuclear power generation.

Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, agreed to accept the nuclear waste disposal site that Buan rejected, beating rival bidders such as Gunsan, Yeongdeok and Pohang. Gunsan is separated from Buan only by the Saemangeum tidal flats. More than 84 percent of Gunsan residents voted to get the disposal site. One of the biggest achievements by the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration was to adopt a regional competitive system to resolve the 19-year-old matter in one stroke.

In the year of the Buan incident, “Memories of Murder,” a Korean film on serial murders that occurred between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, topped the box office. The memories of the murders linger in audiences’ minds but those of the Buan debacle are fading away. Anti-nuclear and environmental groups have remained silent about the UAE contract. If nuclear power plants constitute living nuclear power, nuclear waste disposal sites are the graveyard for gloves, shoes and clothes used at reactors. The oil-producing Middle Eastern country picked Korea to build nuclear power plants rather than thermoelectric power plants. So what will the protests of environmental and religious activists remember about the waste disposal site in Buan?

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)