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An uneven playing field

July 26,2017
A nine-member commission established to gauge public opinion on whether to permanently stop the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 nuclear power plants has held its first meeting. The 90-day commission is headed by former Supreme Court Justice Kim Ji-hyung, who has a reputation for being “objective and neutral.” He was named a justice at the age of 47 under former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun in 2005. Because of his progressive-minded rulings and opinions, he was associated with a group of justices dubbed the “Eagle Five.”

Six others are scholars. The commission will argue its case before a civilian jury that decides on the fate of the two reactors whose construction is already 30 percent finished and requires 2.6 trillion won ($2.3 billion) to dismantle. Despite the gravity of the decision, the commission’s findings could be too theoretical as there is not a single nuclear reactor expert on the body.

If the civilian jury rules to stop and close down the new reactors upon the recommendation from the commission in three months, the country‘s nuclear reactor industry that has grown to be one of the world’s best over the last four decades would crumble. The commission, therefore, must not be obsessed with mechanical neutrality and textbook objectivity. The commission lacks the sensitivity to reach a realistic and future-minded conclusion.

The commission begins activity on a script. President Moon Jae-in has already announced shutting down the construction of the new reactors and also reiterated a nuclear-phase-out policy to more or less force suspension of the construction. Last week, Moon went so far as to say he planned to power down the Wolseong 1 reactor, which has shown no problems during its operation.

The ruling party has formed a group of lawmakers championing a nuclear phase-out to back the government’s policy. Environmental groups have upped anti-reactor campaigns. The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Corp. has been told not to carry out a public campaign on the safety and economics of the reactors. An energy policy has become politicized.

Under these conditions, the commission will more likely recommend a halt to the construction. The civilian jury formed by the commission will also likely come under political influence. There is also the question of legal binding force of the civilian jury. The commission has been established under the order of the Prime Minister. But a public policy costing 2.6 trillion won would have to be approved by the National Assembly that represents the broad population. The matter cannot be solely decided by the commission and civilian jury.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 30