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An unholy rush

July 13,2017
Should the government have hurriedly announced a suspension of the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear power plants? An opposition lawmaker said that two ministers of the Moon Jae-in administration raised an objection to the permanent suspension of the construction. The Blue House denied it. It says that ministers participating in the June 27 cabinet meeting fully discussed the issue.

But after President Moon stepped in, the meeting ended with the conclusion that the government should temporarily stop the construction. Even if the ministers had exchanged views vigorously at the meeting, they should have approached the issue carefully given the recent trend of energy policy overseas.

The government should pay heed to a global boom in atomic power plants. According to the World Nuclear Association, construction of new nuclear power plants around the globe has set a new record — 61 plants being built — since 1992.

At an event to celebrate the permanent shutdown of the Kori 1 nuclear power plant last month, President Moon declared an end to the era of nuclear energy-based electricity generation by 2040, saying that Korea introduced atomic power plants when it was a developing country. But the results of a survey by the WNA tells another story. The United States is constructing four nuclear plants while Japan, Taiwan and the UK are raising the share of nuclear power they use.

Britain is considering introduction of three Korean-type APR-1400 nuclear reactors. The Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) is just a few steps away from winning the bid after its first export of the same-type reactors to the United Arab Emirates in 2009. After the government’s sudden about-face, Kepco is enormously embarrassed and the sale is in jeopardy.

Domestic repercussions are even bigger. Unless the construction resumes for the Shin Kori 5 and 6 plants, tens of thousands of workers will lose jobs. The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, which placed an order for the construction, must take legal responsibility for the suspension of the 8.6 trillion won ($7.5 billion) work. It is deplorable that a national project involving as many as 50,000 workers from 760 contractors can be stopped at a cabinet meeting without a full consensus.

No one would oppose the new government’s push for a post-nuclear energy era — assuming there are alternatives. It is rare for a government to stop building nuclear plants under construction. France attempted to lower its reliance on atomic energy to 50 percent from 75 percent, but looked into every detail while keeping nuclear plants in place. To avoid unwanted ramifications, transparency is needed.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 13, Page 34