[EDITORIALS]Yeonggwang Does the Right ThingWe were interested in the news that 25,000 residents of Yeonggwang-gun, South Cholla province, filed a petition with the Yeonggwang-gun office on Monday to build a radioactive waste disposal site in their community. It is refreshing to hear such news at a time when the nation is plagued with opposition to such environmental facilities. The petition has yet to be approved by the local assembly, however.
It has taken more than 10 years to decide where to build the disposal facilities since the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute began searching for a site in 1986. The institute selected Anmyeon island, off the west coast, as a candidate site in September 1990, only to withdraw the plan in the face of strong resistance by residents of the island. In 1995, it designated Gureop island, also off the west coast, as the site for the facilities but had to scrap that plan after a geological study found active faults there. Finally the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy asked regional governments in 46 littoral areas across the country to volunteer to accept the disposal site by February. It had to put off the deadline for another four months because local governments were unenthusiastic. They distrust nuclear facilities, and are also afflicted with the so-called Not-In-My-Back-Yard attitude.
NIMBY opposition is nothing new, but has intensified since the country gave more authority to local governments. Rather than trying to persuade residents to accept environmental facilities in their communities, some heads of local governments have led or even instigated opposing rallies. A good example is the planned construction of a crematorium by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which cannot even hold a public hearing due to intense backlash from angry residents in the neighborhood.
Nuclear power accounts for about 40 percent of Korea's total power generation and is expected to reach 44.5 percent by 2015. In other words, it is a major driving force behind the country's industrial development. Considering that Korea does not produce a drop of crude oil on its soil, it is inevitable to build nuclear power plants. Many other advanced nations also depend on nuclear power for much of their power. In France, nuclear power accounts for three-quarters of that country's total electricity generation, while it stand at 20 percent in the United States and 36 percent in Japan. The question is whether nuclear power is safe. Experts say that there is nothing to worry about because nuclear power plants are equipped with safety facilities that prevent radioactive materials, layer by layer, from leaking outside during operations or in the event of an accident. They also explain that radioactive waste, properly stored, is even less hazardous than nuclear power plants.
Radioactive waste will keep being produced unless nuclear plants stop operating. The lack of disposal facilities has forced nuclear plants to store waste in temporary storage within their compounds. Experts warn that the interim storage space for low-level waste such as clothes and gloves worn by plant workers will reach full capacity by 2008, while temporary facilities for fuel waste will hit the limit by 2016.
Therefore, Yeonggwang residents deserve our applause for volunteering to invite a waste disposal site. They have also set a good precedent for similar environmental facilities facing intense opposition. Now, the government and the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp. should make every effort to persuade those who are still opposed to the plan and ensure that they build flawless disposal facilities.