Epi­cen­ter of nu­clear op­po­si­tion, Sam­cheok spoils for another fight

En­ergy Min­istry takes heat over its han­dling of cit­i­zens’ con­cerns

Korea JoongAng Daily - - Front Page - BY KIM JI-YOON jiy­[email protected]

The Min­istry of Trade, In­dus­try and En­ergy came un­der fire at the par­lia­men­tary au­dit ses­sions last week for its plans to build ad­di­tional nu­clear power plants.

Much of the crit­i­cism came from op­po­si­tion par­ties and res­i­dents of Sam­cheok, Gang­won, one of two ci­ties se­lected as a site for new re­ac­tors.

The heated dis­cus­sion sprang from an Oct. 9 ref­er­en­dum by Sam­cheok res­i­dents in which 85 per­cent of 28,867 vot­ers said they did not want the nu­clear plant. On the same night, the En­ergy Min­istry pub­lished a state­ment say­ing, “The gov­ern­ment can­not ac­cept the ref­er­en­dum re­sult, which is not ef­fec­tive in prin­ci­ple, be­cause a ‘gov­ern­ment pol­icy’ can­not be the sub­ject of vot­ing.”

The cit­i­zens’ ref­er­en­dum came after then-Mayor Kim Dae-soo in De­cem­ber 2010 told city res­i­dents there would be a vote on the nu­clear plant. Mean­while, the Sam­cheok City Coun­cil went ahead and no­ti­fied the gov­ern­ment that it would ac­cept the plant.

In March 2011, the city sub­mit­ted a pe­ti­tion that it said was signed by 97 per­cent of res­i­dents in support of the site se­lec­tion. Later that month, the Fukushima dis­as­ter made head­lines and support for a new plant in Sam­cheok be­gan to erode.

The ref­er­en­dum promised by the mayor never ma­te­ri­al­ized.

After hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on their own, Sam­cheok res­i­dents demon­strated Oct. 12 in front of an an­ti­nu­clear mon­u­ment built in 1999 to com­mem­o­rate the En­ergy Min­istry’s re­ver­sal of its 1982 decision to build a nu­clear plant in the small city. Res­i­dents fought the decision for 16 years.

In 2004, the gov­ern­ment later se- lected Sam­cheok as the site for a nu­clear waste de­pos­i­tory, but res­i­dents again forced a change of plan.

An­a­lysts and law­mak­ers say the En­ergy Min­istry should show its will­ing­ness to com­mu­ni­cate with res­i­dents and pos­si­bly change its decision-mak­ing pro­cesses.

“The gov­ern­ment’s at­ti­tude is quite ironic,” said Shim Jun-seop, a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at ChungAng Univer­sity and a mem­ber of the Korean As­so­ci­a­tion for Con­flict Stud­ies. “It grate­fully ac­cepted the pro-nu­clear pro­posal, but now it says res­i­dents can’t change their minds.

“It’s not too late to start over. The gov­ern­ment should ob­tain res­i­dents’ con­sent first, even if it takes some time. Ul­ti­mately, pol­icy ex­e­cu­tion would be a lot faster.”

Rul­ing and op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers urged the En­ergy Min­istry to ac­cept that Sam­cheok res­i­dents do not want a nu­clear plant in their back­yard at the Trade, In­dus­try and En­ergy Com­mit­tee’s au­dit ses­sion last Mon­day at the Na­tional Assem­bly.

“The nu­clear power is­sue is not some­thing that you can sim­ply bull­doze through,” said Rep. Baek Jaehyun of the New Pol­i­tics Al­liance for Democ­racy. “It is some­thing that is im­pos­si­ble with­out the con­sent of res­i­dents.”

Even Rep. Lee Che-ik from the rul­ing Saenuri Party lashed out at the en­ergy min­is­ter. “What ef­fort has the gov­ern­ment made to con­vince and com­fort Sam­cheok res­i­dents?” asked Lee. “I think the min­istry so far hasn’t done much to build any trust with them after the Fukushima nu­clear ac­ci­dent.”

Ac­cord­ing to the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion en­ergy plan for 2015-35 re­leased last year, the gov­ern­ment wants to raise its re­liance on nu­clear to 29 per­cent of to­tal power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity, from 25.2 per­cent as of late 2012. At the same time, the En­ergy Min­istry wants to re­duce car­bon emis­sions by 20 per­cent over the pe­riod.

To do so, Korea will need 18 more re­ac­tors, 10 of which will be built at ex­ist­ing power plants and four each at new plants in Sam­cheok, Gang­won, and Yeongdeok County, North Gyeongsang, on the east coast.

De­spite the ques­tion­able chain of events sur­round­ing the Sam­cheok city gov­ern­ment’s support for the nu­clear plant, the En­ergy Min­istry is not con­sid­er­ing chang­ing its plan. It ar­gues that the re­cent ref­er­en­dum has no le­gal weight and there’s no rea­son to change its po­si­tion.

“[As far as I know] the ref­er­en­dum was in­for­mally dis­cussed be­tween the mayor and the Sam­cheok City Coun­cil, and I un­der­stand that pub­lic ap­proval was not a con­di­tion when the item passed the city coun­cil,” said Yoon Sang-jick, the en­ergy min­is­ter. “Cen­tral gov­ern­ment pol­icy shouldn’t be sub­ject to a lo­cal ref­er­en­dum. If ref­er­en­dums were al­lowed for ev­ery pol­icy, the gov­ern­ment would have a lot of trou­ble car­ry­ing out its poli­cies and long-term plans.”

He hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity that he might try to per­suade Sam­cheok res­i­dents to ac­cept the plant.

“I don’t think this is­sue is some­thing the gov­ern­ment and pub­lic should have a le­gal fight over,” said Yoon. “Since the Sam­cheok nu­clear plant con­struc­tion is not sched­uled to be­gin un­til 2020, the min­istry will keep com­mu­ni­cat­ing with res­i­dents and ask for their un­der­stand­ing.”

On Thurs­day, an of­fi­cial in the min­istry’s en­ergy source pol­icy depart­ment said there is no pos­si­bil­ity that the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion en­ergy plan will be changed.

“The min­istry reviews 20-year en­ergy plans ev­ery five years, which means the third-gen­er­a­tion plan will be dis­cussed in 2018,” the of­fi­cial, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied, said. “If there are changes [in nu­clear poli­cies], they will be re­flected in the next plan.

“I don’t re­ally think Korea can re­duce its nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion, be­cause not many choices are avail­able in the short term. Coal gen­er­ates too much green­house gas, nat­u­ral gas is too ex­pen­sive and re­new­able en­ergy is likely to raise house­hold power bills, and it would take time to build in­fra­struc­ture.”

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with JTBC last week, Kim Min-jeon, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Kyunghee Univer­sity, said the gov­ern­ment should com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic more ex­ten­sively about its nu­clear power plans.

“The gov­ern­ment should play a role of gath­er­ing in­sights from the Korean pub­lic, not just about nu­clear power but also the over­all elec­tric­ity sup­ply is­sue,” said Kim. “The wide­spread belief in the past that nu­clear power is per­fectly safe has been bro­ken since the Fukushima ac­ci­dent of 2011.”

“It is true that Korea can’t do much but rely on nu­clear en­ergy, es­pe­cially when it comes to en­ergy se­cu­rity,” said Shim of Chung-Ang Univer­sity. “If nu­clear is un­avoid­able, the gov­ern­ment should invest more time elic­it­ing pub­lic agree­ment about this is­sue.”

By Song Bong-geun

Plans call for re­ac­tors iden­ti­cal to Sin­gori 1 and 2 in Ul­san, above, to be built in Sam­cheok, Gang­won, and Yeongdeok County, North Gyeongsang.


Sam­cheok res­i­dents hold a demon­stra­tion on Oct. 12 in front of the an­ti­nu­clear mon­u­ment built in 1999.

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