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The Shin Kori conundrum

July 19,2017
The controversy over the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP)’s decision to suspend construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear plants is taking a new turn. In a dramatic shift, the state-run company in charge of producing electricity in South Korea has announced its opposition to the government’s move to permanently stop additional construction of nuclear power plants to promote more eco-friendly power generation in the future, as President Moon Jae-in promised in his campaign.

Lee Kwan-sup, President and CEO of KHNP, said in a press conference on Monday that the management of the power company would support the construction of the two new nuclear plants as it had already invested a whopping 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion) in the construction. He added that the leadership of the corporation will proactively defend the construction to prevent a permanent suspension of the work. The management had reached an agreement at a closed-door board meeting held at a hotel last week to temporarily stop the construction as the government requested.

At Monday’s press conference, however, CEO Lee explained why its board members agreed to suspend the construction and what kinds of problems are expected from a permanent suspension of the work. He said they decided to temporarily stop the construction in order to reduce losses expected from a myriad of contractors. In other words, he had to avert an unnecessary prolongation of the controversy since the issue has yet to go through a public debate.

Lee also expressed his objection to the permanent shutdown of the construction even though he would respect whatever decision would be reached by a committee aimed at seeking public consensus later on. He also stressed that if the construction stops permanently, it could affect our construction of nuclear plants overseas. Put differently, the suspension will have a negative impact on our nation’s exports of nuclear plants at a time when the United States, the UK and China are raising the share of nuclear power in their energy-supply system. There is another concern for KHNP. The corporation can hardly avoid breach of trust charges if the construction is cancelled.

The company has decided to publicize the safety of nuclear energy to help the public make an appropriate judgment. In the process, KHNP must not be influenced by the Moon Jae-in administration.

The government must help diverse voices be reflected in the course of seeking a consensus. Only then can the new administration avoid an energy crisis.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 19, Page 30