MOTIE releases six-page document refuting claim of top-secret N. Korean nuclear power project

Posted on : 2021-02-02 17:22 KST Modified on : 2021-02-02 17:22 KST
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy spokesperson Shin Hee-dong delivers a briefing at the Central Government Complex in Seoul on Jan. 31 on allegations that the administration attempted to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea. (Yonhap News)
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy spokesperson Shin Hee-dong delivers a briefing at the Central Government Complex in Seoul on Jan. 31 on allegations that the administration attempted to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea. (Yonhap News)

On Feb. 1, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) disclosed a document that considered the idea of building a nuclear power plant in North Korea, which the political opposition has cited in accusing the Moon Jae-in administration of an “act benefiting the enemy.”

Based on a prosecutors’ indictment stating that the document was one of 530 files deleted by a MOTIE employee ahead of an audit of the Wolsong Nuclear Power Complex, the opposition has been accusing the administration of “covering up” a top-secret attempt to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea.

In a Jan. 31 briefing, MOTIE explained that the document was meant to “examine ideas in anticipation of [increased] inter-Korean economic cooperation.”

“The claim that this was a top-secret attempt to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea is untrue,” it added.

Despite the clarification, the controversy has continued. The surprise disclosure of the original document comes after a decision by the information disclosure review committee to “put an end to the unnecessary debate.”

The six-page document begins by saying, “This report is a document for internal consideration of possible alternatives in the event that construction of a nuclear power plant is pursued in North Korea in the future. It does not represent the official position of the government.”

Also, the very first line in a section on “considerations” states that the “decision-making body [for developing the plant] would be jointly established with other countries, including the US and Japan.”

The fact that the implementation system would be jointly formed with other countries would seem to tell a very different story from the opposition’s claims of a “top-secret attempt” to build a nuclear power plant in the North. The fact that the document was still preserved at MOTIE may also be seen as evidence that it was unrelated to any administration “cover-up.”

The document considers the pros and cons of three scenarios for the construction of nuclear power plants: the construction of a plant on a Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) site in Kumho in North Korea’s South Hamgyong Province, construction in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and construction of third and fourth reactors at the South’s Shin-Hanul Nuclear Power Plant, which would then be used to send electricity to the North. The document also mentions possible reactor models that might be built and plans for processing spent nuclear fuel.

Referring to the first approach of building a plant in North Korea, the document’s review opinion section states that “an argument can be made for it in terms of time needed, project costs, and consistency with South Korea’s energy transitioning policy.”

At the same time, it stresses the “need for additional examination in the future due to the very high current level of uncertainty associated with the content and level of denuclearization measures between North Korea and the US.”

According to MOTIE, 17 of the 530 deleted files were related to the matter of nuclear power plants in Korea, with two of them being ministry-drafted documents on “plans for pursuing nuclear power plant construction in North Korea” and “experts in inter-Korean economic cooperation in the energy field.” The other documents were information related to past KEDO activities and lists of experts, it explained.

By Kim Jeong-su, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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