[Editorial] Shin-Kori nuclear reactors to be a case study in deliberative democracy

Posted on : 2017-06-29 17:16 KST Modified on : 2017-06-29 17:16 KST
Minister of the Office of Government Policy Coordination Hong Nam-ki announces plans to halt construction on Shin Kori reactors 5 and 6
Minister of the Office of Government Policy Coordination Hong Nam-ki announces plans to halt construction on Shin Kori reactors 5 and 6

The South Korean government has decided to temporarily halt construction on the Shin-Kori 5 and 6 nuclear reactors in Ulju County, Ulsan. The decision of whether to resume or abandon construction will be made after setting up a public debate commission and selecting a citizen jury to take part in a deliberative opinion poll. This is a good approach to decision making that can reasonably settle a divisive issue in which various interests are entangled.

At the ceremony announcing the permanent closure of the Kori 1 nuclear reactor on June 19, President Moon Jae-in said that no more nuclear reactors would be built and that operations at the current reactors would be halted at the end of their design life. This means that Moon means to move toward a nuclear power phase-out. During his presidential campaign, he also promised to stop construction on Shin-Kori 5 and 6, on which construction began in June 2016. But he took one step back by pledging to “seek social consensus.” He was apparently seeking to be more cautious in this decision, given the considerable interests that want the construction to proceed. But Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, which is behind the project, actually sped up the construction. It‘s disturbing to contemplate that this was apparently calculated to increase the sunk cost and thus make it harder to halt the construction. In the end, the government decided to temporarily halt construction and to make its final decision within three months.

If Shin-Kori 5 and 6 are built according to plan, it will considerably delay the time when operations will cease at all of South Korea’s nuclear reactors, complicating efforts to phase out nuclear power. Shin-Kori 6 is scheduled for completion in Oct. 2022, and it has a design life of 60 years. This means that, even if no more nuclear reactors are built, at least one will be running in South Korea until 2082. If a nuclear power phase-out is the right course of action, we should also be looking for ways to accelerate the timing of the nuclear phase-out as much as possible.

The government has said it will set up a public debate committee consisting of people who are not connected with the energy industry and that it will leave the decision to a jury of randomly selected citizens. Nuclear energy policy must be decided in consideration of the entire range of factors -- not only the economy of energy production but also national security, public safety and environmental impact. We must not let policy be shaped by the powerful minority whose interests are at stake here. The interested parties must not be allowed to participate in the decision-making process. If a citizen jury makes it decision after hearing the opinions of the interested parties and experts from various fields and then debating the issue, it will be possible to implement their decision with a sweeping national consensus. This should go down as a case study in deliberative democracy.

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