Construction to be suspended on fifth and sixth Shin-Kori nuclear reactors

Posted on : 2017-06-28 15:51 KST Modified on : 2017-06-28 15:51 KST
Citizen jury to be convened to decide on whether permanently abandon construction of reactors
The construction site for Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors  
The construction site for Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors  

The South Korean government plans to temporarily halt construction on the fifth and sixth reactors at the Shin-Kori Nuclear Power Plant in Ulsan and hold a citizen jury survey of public opinion to make a decision on whether to abandon it altogether.

Coming on the heels of the permanent shutdown of the first reactor at Kori on June 19, it is another example of the Moon Jae-in administration’s move away from nuclear power.

The government’s decision on the plan for bringing the Shin-Kori reactor issue to public debate came during a June 27 Cabinet meeting presided over by Moon.

“The new administration named a halt to construction of the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors as an election pledge as a part of its post-nuclear power policies,” said Office of Government Policy Coordination director Hong Nam-ki in a press conference.

“As a construction halt would have a substantial ripple effect on the local economy, it was decided that it would be better to generate a social consensus and follow along with that decision rather than simply stopping construction as pledged,” Hong explained.

For now, the administration plans to temporarily halt construction on Shin-Kori 5 and 6, which were 28.8% complete (10.4% in terms of actual construction) as of late May. Construction is set to stop as soon as the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) board of directors makes its decision. The government has estimated total losses (sunk costs) of 2.6 trillion won (US$2.3 billion) - including 1.6 trillion won (US$1.4 billion) that has already been spent - if the decision is made to scrap construction entirely on Shin-Kori 5 and 6.

To bring the issue to public debate, the government plans to form a public debate committee with up to ten neutral members, not including nuclear power stakeholders or people working in the energy field. The committee, which is to have a basic operation period of three months, will not have final authority to make a decision, but will have a role in designing methods of surveying public opinion.

The final decision is to be made by a separately selected “citizen jury.” The approach is based on the citizen communication committee format used in Germany when selecting nuclear waste disposal sites.

“In Germany, they conducted phone interviews with 70,000 people and randomly selected 120 of them to form a citizen jury,” Hong explained. “The citizen jury will be given ample information and opportunities to discuss it before making a final decision,” he added.

If orders for its legal foundation are given and its members selected within July, the committee will likely to be able to make a final decision by October. The South Korean government used the citizens‘ jury system in 2009 with a committee for public debate on the fate of spent nuclear fuel.

During a June 19 ceremony in Busan to announce the permanent shutdown of Kori 1, Moon declared that he would “proceed into a post-nuclear era.” Moon also said he planned to “produce a social consensus on Shin-Kori 5 and 6 as soon as possible, taking into account safety issues, the construction completion rate, construction and compensation costs, and the power infrastructure reserve rate.”

Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) secretary-general Yang-Yi Won-young said the “scrapping of Shin-Kori 5 and 6 will be a symbolic measure in terms of post-nuclear power policy, given that the construction and facility contracts were signed and the completion rate increased before permission to build had even been granted.”

Shin-Kori 5 and 6 are the first South Korean reactors subject to a decision on whether or not to complete construction since the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on Mar. 11, 2011. KHNP decided on a basic construction plan for the two reactors in Feb. 2009, but held resident briefings for them in Oct. 2011 after the Fukushima accident in Japan.

At the time, residents raised issues over Shin-Kori 5 and 6 being slated for building in a region with many nuclear power plants already. A total of eight nuclear power plants are located within a 3-km radius of the site in Ulsan’s Sinam village where Shin-Kori 5 and 6 were to go up, including the Kori 1 reactor that was permanently shut down and the Shin-Kori 4 reactor that is scheduled to go online in November. KFEM has complained that the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 reactors are only designed to withstand earthquakes of up to 6.9 on the Richter scale, which is less than the Korean Peninsula’s maximum potential earthquake magnitude of 7.5. Greenpeace is currently in a court battle after filing suit in Sep. 2016 to have the construction canceled, claiming the decision was made without adequate examination of safety issues. It was around the same time that Moon and other presidential candidates pledged to halt construction on Shin-Kori 5 and 6.

By Jung In-hwan and Kim Sung-hwan, staff reporters

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