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Court rejects injunction on nuke reactors’ construction

Feb 15,2019
A Seoul court Thursday refused to grant an injunction requested by an international environmental group and residents near a nuclear plant to reverse the government’s plan to build two new reactors in Ulsan.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled Thursday that the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission gave unlawful permission to the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. to build Shin Kori 5 and 6 in a suburb of the southeastern industrial city, but the plan cannot be scrapped for the sake of the public interest.

In September 2016, the Seoul bureau of Greenpeace and residents of Ulju, Ulsan, filed for an injunction to stop the construction. They said the nuclear watchdog issued permission to build new reactors without properly considering safety risks. They also said the nuclear safety commission failed to respect the required process of discussing the plan with residents near the plant.

The court said it handed down a judgment under special circumstances based on Article 28 of the Administrative Litigation Act. “Even in a case where the claims filed by the plaintiff are deemed reasonable, if the revocation of a disposition is deemed remarkably inappropriate in terms of the public welfare, the court may reject such claims. In this case, the court shall expressly state that the disposition is illegal in the text of the judgment,” clause one of the article says.

Over 10 hearings, the court concluded that the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission’s permission was illegal in two aspects. The commission said two of the commission members were unfit to issue the permission because their careers were linked to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power.

“Because the construction permission was granted by unfit members, the decision is illegal,” the court said.

The court also said Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power had submitted a poor radioactivity environmental impact assessment report to the commission that failed to reflect the concept of “serious accidents.”

The court, however, rejected the arguments by Greenpeace and residents that the site selection for the nuclear plant was inappropriate and that the company failed to conduct proper earthquake and geological surveys.

While the process was legally flawed, the violations were not enough to revoke permission, the court said. It noted that the Shin Kori 5 and 6 already had updated designs to prepare for “serious accidents” under the nuclear energy safety law, reinforced since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, concluding the omission in the report was not a serious flaw.

The court also said the construction plan was passed by enough votes even without the two unfit members. “Even if the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission creates a new evaluation committee and votes again, it will highly likely reach the same conclusion,” it said.

The court said revoking permission would substantially delay construction, because the company will have to reapply for it. Delayed construction of the reactors may lower the electricity reserves and cause a serious impact on the energy industry and the economy, as 1,602 companies are working on the project.

“Construction is expected to be suspended for about four years if the permission is revoked, and over 1 trillion won ($887 million) in losses are expected,” the court said.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]