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Moon shows flexibility on nuclear issue

Gov’t stops using the ‘nuclear-free energy policy’ description
Oct 23,2017
President Moon Jae-in vowed to swiftly resume construction of two nuclear reactors on Sunday in response to a panel’s recommendation to reject Moon’s campaign pledge to scrap the $7.5 billion-worth project.

The administration, however, will push ahead with its initiative to phase out nuclear power by halting plans to build any new plants and advocating for renewable, eco-friendly energy.

“The government will quickly resume construction of the Shin Kori 5 and Shin Kori 6 nuclear reactors following the outcome of [the panel’s vote],” the president said in a statement released by the Blue House.

“The government will implement policies aimed at weaning Korea off nuclear power as already planned,” Moon said. “[The government] will suspend all plans to build nuclear plants and halt Wolseong 1, which is still operating after an extension of its original operating lifespan.”

The panel consisting of 471 members of the public - with no nuclear experts - reached a final decision on the fate of Shin Kori 5 and 6 Friday with 59.5 percent voting in favor of restarting construction and 40.5 percent against.

The panel’s deliberations began in July, starting a national discussion of the country’s future energy strategy.

“The government will stand firm on its nuclear-free stance and bolster expansion of renewable energy and natural gas to help the next government follow through with the approach,” Moon said.

For the region in which the new Shin Kori plants are located, near the city of Busan, Moon pledged to strengthen safety standards.

“A total of 13 reactors are clustered in a 30-kilometer [18.6-mile] radius surrounding the Kori and Wolseong regions, where millions of people live,” the president said. “Two more plants will be added. To ease concerns of people, we will improve safety standards of nuclear power plants.”

Shin Kori 5 will be complete in 2021 and Shin Kori 6 in 2022, and each is designed to operate for 60 years. If Moon’s energy policy continues beyond his term, Shin Kori 6 will be the last reactor in operation when it reaches the end of its life cycle in 2082.

To offset the losses associated with the exports of nuclear power technology, the administration will instead focus on developing and exporting techniques to dismantle old reactors.

One idea is to set up a research institute to explore the disassembly techniques in the southeastern region of Korea.

The Friday decision shows that the president’s policies against nuclear power have yet to win a consensus among the public.

Nuclear power provides around 30 percent of Korea’s electricity. The Moon administration recently opted not to use the term “nuclear-free energy policy” since it can come off as radical. Instead, it adopted the phrase “energy transformation policy” in its most recent addresses and statements.

“The policy is aimed at reducing the country’s heavy dependence on nuclear power and shifting towards renewables,” said a high-ranking official at the Blue House.

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will close all nuclear reactors,” the source said.

Moon indicated that the government will deploy the panel discussion method in determining other high-stakes issues going forward, possibly including the decision on the fate of six other reactors that await final approval for construction. Shortly after the start of the Moon administration, the design and construction of those six reactors were temporarily halted.

“We need wisdom that will lead to a social consensus for big and controversial issues,” the president said.

“I hope to see more of such public discussions and consensus-making processes through this public debate experience.”

The planned reactors include the Shin Hanul 3 and 4 to be built in Uljin, North Gyeongsang, Cheonji 1 and 2 in Yeongdeok in North Gyeongsang and two more whose locations have yet to be decided.

A cabinet meeting will be held Oct. 24 to discuss plans for the six plants.

BY PARK EUN-JEE, KANG TAE-HWA [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]